The American Association of University Professors released a statement today calling on the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors to keep an academic poverty center run by an outspoken professor.
The AAUP represents 40,000 university professors across the nation, including chapters in North Carolina, and the group often speaks out if it feels academic freedoms are at risk.
In this case, AAUP members are concerned that the poverty center is being targeted because of political reasons , said Henry Reichman, a vice-president in the national professors’ group, and a California-based academic.
In the case of UNC, the group hopes the Board of Governors rejects the recommendations to shut down the poverty center, but may open an investigation into the matter if the closure goes forward, he said.
The group would be just as likely to jump to the defense of a center with conservative leanings facing issues of academic freedom, he said.
“In times of political controversy, these things tend to increase,” Reichman said. “This would be a concern if it was a liberal board going after a conservative center.”
From the statement:
This statement from the national office of the American Association of University Professors is sent on behalf of the local AAUP chapters at University of North Carolina institutions and the statewide North Carolina conference of the AAUP and is addressed to the UNC Board of Governors. It conveys the Association’s concern relating to a special committee’s recommendations affecting several UNC centers that are scheduled for action by the board at its meeting on February 27. Of particular and immediate concern to us is the recommendation to discontinue the UNC School of Law’s Center on Poverty, Work, and Community, reportedly seen by its opponents as less a center for teaching law students and for scholarship than an advocacy program for the economic and social betterment and the civil rights of the poor, the disabled, and persons of color.
As noted in the AAUP’s 2013 Statement on Conflicts of Interest, “American universities have long been engaged with the institutions of the wider society, to their mutual benefit.” To be true to their mission, public universities must serve all members of our society, the poor as well as the privileged. Externally funded centers must be free to sponsor curricular and extracurricular programs and provide services to the public across the broadest range of perspectives and approaches.
You can read the entire statement here, which references academic freedom cases that have occurred in Mississippi as well as the Speaker Ban in North Carolina and resistance in 2002 to the selection at UNC-Chapel Hill of a summer reading book about the Koran.
The AAUP statement concludes:
Given this history in defense of academic freedom, we shall be greatly disappointed if the UNC board takes a position that is at odds with the position it took in 2002. We hope and expect, however, that the current board members will stay true to the values of academic freedom that their predecessors steadfastly upheld in 2002.
The UNC Board of Governors is expected to vote on the proposed closures Friday, at a meeting being held on UNC-Charlotte’s campus.