Dean of UNC’s law school stepping down

The dean of the University of North Carolina’s law school is stepping down, saying that he wants to make room for new leadership to steer an upcoming fundraising campaign and ambitious curriculum changes.

Jack Boger, 68, who has served as dean since 2006, will stay on the job until July 2015 and then continue to teach at the Chapel Hill campus, according to a news release from the law school.

UNC’s Jack Boger

Boger said he wanted to ensure a new dean would be in place to run a large capital campaign expected to begin in the next year or two.

“It’s better to use that pause to bring in the next runner,” Boger said, comparing the leadership of the school to a relay race.

Boger has taught at the university for a quarter-century, and was a deputy director at the law school’s Center for Civil Rights before his 2006 appointment to lead the law school. He will return to the classroom and teach classes in education law, constitutional law and racial discrimination.

Boger found himself recently in the public spotlight when members of the UNC board of governors and university administrators became alarmed over highly critical columns UNC law professor Gene Nichol has been writing about policies under Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. Among the most controversial was an October editorial in the News & Observer where Nichol, a tenured professor and director of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, compared McCrory to Jim Crow-era Southern politicians for backing restrictive changes to the state’s voting laws.

(Note: Nichol is a board member of the N.C. Justice Center, the larger anti-poverty non-profit that N.C. Policy Watch is a part of).

Nichol was subsequently asked to give university administrators a “heads up” when his monthly columns appear in the News & Observer, with a tagline informing readers that Nichol was not speaking for UNC.

The News & Observer reported in April that Boger had sent the email to Nichol outlining the unusual arrangement to keep UNC Chancellor Carol Folt, UNC Provost Jim Dean and the board of trustees aware of what Nichol was writing.

Gene Nichol

Gene Nichol

“Expressions of faculty views can sometimes provoke strong external or internal disagreement that leads unhappy listeners to threaten financial harm or injury,” Boger wrote in an Oct. 21 email to Nichol, according to the News & Observer. “The Chancellor, the Provost, and the Board of Trustees must necessarily be alert, of course, to the prospect of real injury to the University. They do not intend, however, for threats to undermine their broad support of free expression by faculty members.”

The UNC system has seen significant drops in state funding in recent years, and more cuts for the 17-school system are expected for the fiscal year starting this July.  McCrory’s budget proposal included $49 million in cuts to the UNC system, and Republican legislative leaders have yet to release their budget proposals.

Boger said his decision to step down wasn’t based on the recent controversies over Nichol’s columns.

“In terms of the pressures on a dean, that’s a fraction but a small fraction,” Boger said.

Nichol praised Boger’s commitment to freedom of expression, calling him “a good dean in a tough era.”

“I’m particularly grateful that he’s worked hard trying to protect free speech and academic freedom — especially in the last year or two when the provost [Jim Dean] and chancellor [Carol Folt] haven’t been as committed to those values as Jack is,” Nichol wrote in an email.

The recent years of budget cuts created challenges for the law school, Boger said, and he was pleased with how he was able to steer the law school through what he compared to four years of gale-force winds for a boat at sea.

“It probably does add to the stress levels,” he said. “I would wish for very smooth sailing ahead.”

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