In case you haven’t yet read them yet, do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to read the statements issued yesterday by UNC Law School Dean Jack Boger and Professor Gene Nichol in response to the the recommendation of a special committee of the UNC Board of Governors to close the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. Here is an excerpt from Boger’s statement:
“The BOG special committee rests its recommendation on no genuine reason beyond a barely concealed desire to stifle the outspokenness of the center’s director, Professor Gene Nichol, who continues to talk about the state’s appalling poverty with unsparing candor. The committee’s original charge was to cut funds to centers that spent too much and to redirect their state aid toward other projects. On that basis, targeting the Poverty Center makes no sense at all. The center hasn’t taken state tax dollars since 2009, and its modest staff — a few earnest post-JD law graduates and an army of dedicated student volunteers — are housed in three small rooms nestled in an off-campus building and paid through private sources.
In prior decades, the University of North Carolina won the hearts and the gratitude of the state’s people by combating the scourges of peonage and child labor, of woefully inadequate medical care and appallingly bad public education. These earlier faculty-led initiatives drew fierce opposition from those who managed to benefit from others’ poverty and oppression. Yet the University pressed ahead, fulfilling what Dr. Frank Graham once celebrated as ‘a tradition of our people’: that in Chapel Hill they would find ‘a place where there is always a breath of freedom in the air . . . and where finally truth shining like a star bids us advance and we will not turn aside.”
The Special BOG committee would constrict that breath of freedom. It would order the Poverty Center to turn aside from investigating conditions of human misery in our state that cry out for greater attention, not less.’
And this is from Nichol’s inspiring response:
“Poverty is North Carolina’s greatest challenge. In one of the most economically vibrant states of the richest nation on earth, eighteen percent of us live in wrenching poverty. Twenty-five percent of our kids. Forty percent of our children of color. We have one of the country’s fastest rising poverty rates. A decade ago, North Carolina had the 26th highest rate among the states. Now we’re 9th, speeding past the competition. Greensboro is America’s second hungriest city. Asheville’s ninth. Charlotte has the nation’s worst economic mobility. Over the last decade, North Carolina experienced the country’s steepest rise in concentrated poverty. Poverty, amidst plenty, stains the life of this commonwealth. Even if our leaders never discuss it….
I have been repeatedly informed, even officially, that my articles have ’caused great ire and dismay’ among state officials and that, unless I stopped publishing in the News & Observer, ‘external forces might combine in the months ahead’ to force my dismissal. Today those threats are brought to fruition. The Board of Governors’ tedious, expensive and supremely dishonest review process yields the result it sought all along – closing the Poverty Center. This charade, and the censorship it triggers, demeans the Board, the University, academic freedom and the Constitution. It’s also mildly ironic that the University now abolishes the Center for the same work that led it to give me the Thomas Jefferson Award a year ago.
The Poverty Center runs on an annual budget of about $120,000. None comes from the state. Grant funding has been secured through 2016. These private dollars will now be returned. UNC will have fewer resources, not more. Two terrific young lawyers will lose their jobs. Student education, employment and publication opportunities will be constricted. Most importantly, North Carolina’s understanding of the challenges of poverty will be weakened. These are significant costs to pay for politicians’ thin skin.”
No wonder that a troubled soul like Pope-Civitaser/UNC BOG member Steven Long is in such a lather. Truth speakers like Nichol and Boger have a way of getting under one’s skin when your overriding mission is to roll back a half century of societal progress.
Finally, be sure to check out Valerie Strauss’ story in the Washington Post in which she rightfully likens the actions of the BOG to the recent efforts of Wisconsin’s right-wing governor and would be presidential candidate Scott Walker to change the mission of the University of Wisconsin.