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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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Scroll down to read UNC law professor Gene Nichol’s response to the expected closure of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. For a fuller account of Wednesday’s meeting, click here.

A committee for the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors issued a much-anticipated draft report on centers and institutes Wednesday, recommending that three centers on university campuses be shut down in the near future.

The report also recommends tightening existing university system policies banning political participation and limiting advocacy work.

UNC law professor Gene Nichol

UNC law professor Gene Nichol

Among the three recommended for closure was the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus. The others included the N.C. Center for Biodiversity at East Carolina University, which may be merged into a department, and the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at N.C. Central University. Winston-Salem State University’s Center for Community Safety could also face closure if it doesn’t find new funding within the next six months.

The poverty center, which was started by former Democratic U.S. Sen. John Edwards, receives no direct state funding.

Its director, tenured law professor Gene Nichol, has rankled some Republican state leaders and conservative groups in recent years by penning editorials decrying how state policies are failing impoverished North Carolina. (Note: Nichol is a past board member of the N.C. Justice Center, an anti-poverty non-profit that N.C. Policy Watch is part of. He had no role in the reporting or writing of this piece.)

“The Board of Governors’ tedious, expensive and supremely dishonest review process yields the result it sought all along – closing the Poverty Center,” Nichol wrote in an editorial published on the News & Observer’s website after Wednesday’s committee meeting. “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,” he wrote.

As a tenured law professor, Nichol will continue to be employed by the university. He was not at Wednesday’s meeting.

Wednesday’s draft report can be read here.

The review of centers and institutes across the UNC system was triggered by the Republican-led state legislature, which included an item in last summer’s budget requiring the UNC system to examine the centers, and make up to $15 million in cuts. The months-long review began with 237 centers, and the draft report made public Wednesday recommends action at 16 groups, while campuses moved to shut down eight others. A group of nine centers related to the marine sciences are expected to be examined at a later date.

The total dollars expected to be saved with the recommended closure was not available, but are likely to be a fraction of the up to $15 million in cuts authorized by the legislature.

The full UNC Board of Governors will vote at their meeting next week on the UNC-Charlotte campuses whether to adopt today’s recommendations. The current board of governors have all been appointed by a Republican-led state legislature, and attracted attention for its sudden decision last month to fire UNC President Tom Ross and look for a new leader of the 17-campus higher education system.

Much of the discussion at Wednesday’s nearly two hour meeting focused on the UNC Center for Civil Rights, a group within the law school on Chapel Hill’s campus that works with students and engages in litigation around the state. The draft report recommended that UNC-Chapel Hill review the civil rights center in the next year, and “define center policies around advocacy and conform with applicable university regulations.”

UNC Board of Governor member Jim Holmes speaks Weds. with UNC Center for Civil Rights' director Ted Shaw and other staff

UNC Board of Governor member Jim Holmes speaks Weds. with UNC Center for Civil Rights’ director Ted Shaw and other staff

Steven Long, a conservative member of the board of governors, spoke out Wednesday against the civil rights center, saying he thought it engaged in partisan politics, advocated for a narrow point of view and routinely sued the state.

“It’s really not an academic center at all; it’s an advocacy organization,” Long said, during lengthy remarks he gave Wednesday.

Long, a Raleigh attorney who was a board member for the conservative Civitas Institute until 2013, made reference to a federal desegregation lawsuit the center’s lawyers, who represented a group of African-American parents, filed against Pitt County.

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