UNC Poverty Center shuts down, but work continues on at new group

UNC law professor Gene Nichol

UNC law professor Gene Nichol

The University of North Carolina’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, in order to comply with a February decision by the university’s system governing board, shut its doors last week.

The privately-funded center based out of the Chapel Hill law school, UNC Board of Governor Chairman John Fennebresque explained in an editorial, “was unable to demonstrate any appreciable impact on the issue of poverty.”

But many had trouble believing that reasoning, speculating that the center’s closing was an attempt to censor Gene Nichol, the tenured law professor who heads the poverty center and a vocal critic of policies passed by the Republican-led legislature and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

The UNC Board of Governors gets its appointments from the state legislature, and its ranks include several major contributors to the political campaigns of state Republicans.

But the work at the poverty center isn’t finished, Nichol wrote in the Institute for Southern Studies last week.

Funding for the center’s work has continued, and even increased, after the controversial closing of the center, and Nichol will now head the N.C. Poverty Research Fund.

From Nichol, in the Institute for Southern Studies:

I’ve been blessed with a long and varied academic career. But none of my efforts has approached the extraordinary honor of working, side by side for the past seven years, with North Carolina low-income communities and the dedicated students, professors, advocates and providers who seek to serve them. Together, we have sought to focus a meaningful light on the challenges of poverty and to push back against policies that foster economic injustice. Those efforts, as you know, have led the UNC Board of Governors to close the Poverty Center. But poverty is the enemy in North Carolina. Not a tiny, privately-funded Poverty Center.  Heather Hunt and I have no words to match the gratitude we feel for the astonishing support the Poverty Center has received, in recent months, from thousands across North Carolina and the nation.

As the Poverty Center closes, the Law School now launches the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund. Thanks to the generosity of North Carolina foundations, and engaged and committed citizens from across the country, the new Fund will allow us to hire student, faculty and post-doctorate scholars to assist us in probing the causes of, and solutions to, economic injustice – and to publish, extensively, the fruits of our research. Donors have indicated repeatedly that they are unwilling to see the crucial work of the Poverty Center driven from the halls of the university. The Fund will assure that it continues, and that it continues in Chapel Hill. Censorship has poor track record. It won’t prevail here either.

Poverty is North Carolina’s greatest challenge. In one of the most economically vibrant states of the richest nation on earth, 18 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 10th, speeding past the competition. Greensboro, the federal government tells us, is the hungriest city in America. 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 storied commonwealth. Even if our leaders choose to ignore it.

You can read the rest of Nichol’s comments here.


  1. LayintheSmakDown

    July 6, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    So question 1: Is the state still subsidizing this venture, and who is actually funding it? You left out this important information.

  2. Hmmm

    July 6, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    LSD, the article above contains these almost-miraculous things called “links” that, if you click them, take you to another website where your question will be answered. Since maybe this gee-whiz technology is above you, I’ll answer after using it…

    The center’s site states that its existence is “Thanks to the generosity of various North Carolina foundations, and engaged and committed citizens from across the state and nation.”

    Amazing new technology we have in our hands. Thank Al Gore next you use it, LSD. Mazel tov!

  3. LayintheSmakDown

    July 6, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    I would expect the “journalists” (that term is something I use liberally…the only case of me being liberal for sure) at the pulse would actually do some research and maybe disclose the actual….you know…facts. But that is not the case.
    Never fear though, the Conservative web sites to the rescue. Geneo is again using the UNC system resources for his little political venture. I assume it will not be long before this new boondoggle is on the chopping block.

    The question remains though. Why must Geneo use UNC facilities if this is such a great venture with such generous and committed citizens to donate maybe they could give him a cubicle and use of their IT departments rather than using UNC IT and fund raising sources. Maybe set up a 503(c) instead of mooching off the taxpayers.

  4. LayintheSmakDown

    July 6, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    Oh, and HMMM. I chose not to trust any of the links on this site. Usually they only either link to some propaganda piece on this site or some discredited site like PPP polling or NC Justice center. And as you can see on the link above, assuming it is not censored and deleted, other organizations do research and go beyond just presenting the press release from the guy who is starting up another faux poverty center to enrich himself.

  5. Morning Post for July 7, 2015

    July 7, 2015 at 10:31 am

    […] • The UNC Poverty Center is dead: Long live the Poverty Research Fund. Gene Nichol is not going away quietly or going away at all for that matter. Read more. […]

  6. John

    July 7, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    While it is amusing watching certain individuals and organizations go berserk over this, efforts to censor academic research are not so amusing, especially when the proposed research involves the serious issue of poverty in North Carolina. Fortunately, even the UNC Board of Governors recognizes the potential value of anti-poverty research. Last week, UNC Board of Governors spokeswoman Joni Worthington said Nichol is “allowed to pursue this project because it is his research”. Furthermore, she stated that the private funds that support Nichol’s research are not within the purview of the Board of Governors.

  7. LayintheSmakDown

    July 7, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    It is not the research that they are concerned about. In a foundation(?) that was set up purely for political purposes, Nichols continually spends inordinate amount of time and UNC resources on political pursuits, particularly in the efforts to eviscerate and insult anything the NCGA attempts to do. If he were actually performing research that would be a different story…which really poverty needs some kind of action rather than all this fake research he supposedly does.

  8. LayintheSmakDown

    July 7, 2015 at 6:46 pm

    One more point, I have seen listings of the “research” the center has put out in the past. It is pretty clear that the only thing done is to get a bunch of illiberal leftists together to have latte’s and cookies while sitting around thinking they are actually doing something about poverty. It would be interesting to see if any of the money was used to do anything that could help anyone other than the millionaires club Geno seems to belong to. I guess it helps their psyche feel like they make some kind of difference.

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