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CHARLOTTE – The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors opted Friday to eliminate an academic center concentrated on poverty and run by a controversial professor.

The Board of Governors, meeting on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, voted unanimously to accept recommendations to shut down three centers on three different campuses – the Center for Biodiversity at East Carolina University, the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at N.C. Central University and the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at UNC-Chapel Hill.

A student speaks up in protest at Friday's Board of Governors meeting.

A student speaks up in protest at Friday’s Board of Governors meeting.

Student protestors, who came to the meeting in Charlotte from several different campuses, nearly shut down the meeting.

Friday’s meeting also included a vote to allow campuses to raise tuition and fees over the next two years at its campuses, cost increases that range from 2 to 7 percent for in-state students. (Click here to read a previous post about this.)

The five-month review of centers and institutes, conducted at the behest of the Republican-led state legislature, looked at 240 centers on the 16 university campuses in the UNC systems. The university system leaders may opt to further evaluate nine marine science centers at various UNC campuses at a later date.

The resolution passed Friday makes clear that the three centers singled out for closure will be shut down by this summer and negates an effort, largely led by UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, to urge Chancellor Carol Folt to keep the poverty center open.

Folt told the UNC Board of Governors that many on her campus view their actions as an attempt at suppressing academic freedoms.

“They’ve very fearful this decision [will have] a chilling effect,” Folt said.

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Scroll down for an update of what happened Thursday. Spoiler alert: not much. Vote expected Friday.

Despite the snow storm that socked the state overnight, the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors is still scheduled to hold their meetings today and tomorrow in Charlotte.

One of the items slated for discussion at a sub-committee this morning is a recommendation to close three centers in the university system, including the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus.

A vote by the full UNC Board of Governors  will be on Friday, at the meeting being held at UNC-Charlotte’s campus.

The center is headed by Gene Nichol, a tenured law professor who has been open in his public criticism of how Republican policies have affected the poorest in the state. Many, including Nichol, have suggested the slated closure of the privately-funded center after years of complaints by conservative groups about Nichol.

Many have spoken out against the proposed closure, including the American Association of University Professors and a majority of law school faculty.

I will be at the meeting – and tweeting what happens. Follow me @SarahOvaska. Check back on the blog later today for an update on what happened.

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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.

UNCsystemThe Chapel Hill law school’s UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, which receives no direct state funding and subsists largely off a $120,000 private grant, is one of three centers facing closure after a months-long review of university centers and institutes. It is led by Gene Nichol, a tenured law professor who has rankled Republican state leaders for his editorials in newspapers lambasting political leaders for the treatment of the poorest North Carolinians.
The majority of the faculty at UNC Law School have also signed a similar statement opposing the expected closure of the poverty center and criticisms lobbed by one member of the Board of Governors at the Center for Civil Rights.

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.

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Three-quarters of the faculty members of the University of North Carolina’s School of Law signed a statement late Friday denouncing recommendations from a special committee of the university system’s governing board to cut a poverty-focused academic center.

The Chapel Hill law school’s UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, which receives no direct state funding and subsists largely off a $120,000 private grant, is one of three centers facing closure after a months-long review of university centers and institutes.

UNCThe petition, signed by 64 out of the 83 faculty and emeritus professors listed on the law school’s website, asks that the poverty center be kept open and references questions about whether the poverty center was targeted because of criticism its director, Gene Nichol, has lobbed against Republican state leaders. Nichol’s editorials, published in the (Raleigh) News & Observer have accused the state legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory of turning their backs on the needs of the poorest residents of the state.

UNC Board of Governor members receive their appointments from the state legislature, and all 32 currently serving received nominations and approvals from a Republican-dominated legislature.

“Punishing a professor for expressing his views – views always carefully supported by facts and rigorous analysis – chills the free speech that is central to the University’s mission,” the law professors wrote. “Such active suppression of free speech contravenes the very lifeblood of a public university, where dialogue and dissent must be permitted to survive and indeed to flourish if scholars are to fulfill their missions of contributing to the collective knowledge of the commonwealth.”

The UNC Board of Governors are expected to make its final decision Friday about whether to close the three centers at its monthly meeting being held on the UNC-Charlotte campus. (Click here for background on the issue.)

Though not facing closure, the UNC Center for Civil Rights has also faced tough questions from the UNC board of governors, with one conservative member accusing the civil rights center of being politically-motivated and concentrating too much on racial equality cases. Read More

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Yesterday’s meeting of a special committee of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors included passage of a much-awaited report about centers and institutes, with recommendations that a poverty-focused center run by an outspoken law professor be shut down.

You can read my full report about the recommendations here,

Though the closure of the poverty center has garnered much of the news coverage from Wednesday’s meeting, the  most contentious aspect, by far,  was discussion about another center, the Center for Civil Rights in UNC-Chapel Hill’s law school.

The board of governors’ committee recommended that the center stay open, but that UNC-Chapel Hill campus officials review the center within a year and tighten up policies regarding political participation and advocacy work.

Fierce objections to the center’s existence were also vocalized Wednesday by Steven Long, a UNC Board of Governor member. Long, a Raleigh attorney with the Parker Poe law firm, is a former board member of the Civitas Institute, a conservative think-tank and political action group.

Below is video of Long’s comments:

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