Results of UNC centers and institutes review could be revealed soon

The targets of a controversial review of centers and institutes in the University of North Carolina system may find out this week if they’ll be on the chopping block.

A UNC Board of Governors’ committee will hold a public meeting at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the UNC General Administration building in Chapel Hill to discuss their much-anticipated findings and recommendations.

(Note: absent any extreme weather getting in the way, I’ll be there reporting what happens and can be followed on Twitter at @SarahOvaska.)

The full board of governors is expected to vote on any recommendations of cuts or closures to the centers at their monthly meeting, being held Feb. 26 and 27 on the UNC-Charlotte campus.

The review of the university system’s centers and institutes began last year at the Republican-led legislature’s behest, after a budget item instructed the university system to seek up to $15 million in cuts.

The 32-members of the UNC Board of Governors, all of whom were appointed by Republican majorities in the state legislature, moved last month to fire Tom Ross, the president of the UNC system since 2011. Ross will remain in his position until 2016, while a national search for his successor is underway.

Beginning with more than 200 centers and institutes, members of the UNC Board of Governors reduced their review to  just 34, and several groups that serve or study marginalized groups of people have remained on the committee’s radar.

At the last meeting of the group, the heads of two Chapel Hill-based centers, the Center for Civil Rights and the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, were questioned about “diversity of opinion” and asked why conservative viewpoints weren’t showcased more at the centers.

Gene Nichol, a tenured law professor who heads the poverty center,  questioned whether the review aimed to muffle points of view contrary to those of conservative state leaders. Nichol has rankled some for critical newspaper editorials he’s written about Republican state leaders

“It’s hard not to worry that there is a potent ideological agenda at work,” Nichol said to committee members in December.

From a December N.C. Policy Watch article about the review of centers:

With threats of possible cuts looming, several academic centers faced scrutiny Thursday from a group of the UNC Board of Governors wondering, among other things, why more conservative viewpoints weren’t explored at the centers.

The liveliest exchanges during the two days of presentations from 34 centers under review came Thursday between UNC Board of Governors members and directors of the UNC Center for Civil Rights and the Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity.

Both centers are connected to the law school on the Chapel Hill campus and get all their funding from outside state government.

Steven Long, a Raleigh attorney and UNC Board of Governors member, questioned if the centers should remain in the university system if advocacy is part of their work.

“There is no diversity of opinion at that center,” Long said, referring to the civil rights center.

Long also served on the board of the Civitas Institute, a conservative think-tank funded through a family foundation run by former state budget director Art Pope that has pushed for cuts to university centers.

Ted Shaw, an experienced civil rights litigator who took over the UNC Center for Civil Rights earlier this year, responded that the center teaches law students how to be effective civil rights attorneys, and that work means addressing injustices that minority populations face.

“We have a point of view,” Shaw told Long. “You may just disagree with it.”

You can read the entire article here.

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