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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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N.C. Sen. Jeff Jackson

State Sen. Jeff Jackson managed to make it into work this morning —  one of the only people to do so after ice and snow shut down the Republican-led state legislature.

The Charlotte Democrat, an attorney with less than a term under his belt, unexpectedly found himself the most powerful person in the building.

He was quick to take advantage of the situation.

Check out Jackson’s Twitter feed and Facebook page this morning, where he’s detailing a one-man takeover of the N.C. General Assembly under the hashtag #JustOneLegislator.

And then there’s that hang-up over puppy mills, after a bill banning them stalled last year. Not to worry, Jackson tweeted.    

He’s also got a little something to bring back home.

Of course, it’ll be an uphill battle for any of these to come to fruition this session, but a lawmaker in the minority party can dream, can’t he? Keep following Jackson on Twitter here, he’s also taking requests on his Facebook page. Stay safe, everyone. UPDATE: Jackson’s been hard at work while most of us are watching the ice slowly thaw at home.

He even defeated his own filibuster.

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The targets of a controversial review of centers and institutes in the University of North Carolina system may find out this week if they’ll be on the chopping block.

A UNC Board of Governors’ committee will hold a public meeting at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the UNC General Administration building in Chapel Hill to discuss their much-anticipated findings and recommendations.

(Note: absent any extreme weather getting in the way, I’ll be there reporting what happens and can be followed on Twitter at @SarahOvaska.)

The full board of governors is expected to vote on any recommendations of cuts or closures to the centers at their monthly meeting, being held Feb. 26 and 27 on the UNC-Charlotte campus.

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There’s already been much said about the lives that the student victims of Wednesday’s triple-shooting death in Chapel Hill led.

Here, you can hear directly from one of the victims, and some of her thoughts about growing up Muslim in North Carolina, and her larger worldview about peace and tolerance.

Yusor Abu-Salha, a 21-year-old newlywed who planned on entering UNC’s Dentistry school this fall, participated in a Story Corps interview with NPR when the national project visited Durham last summer.

In it, Abu-Salha spoke with a former teacher Sister Jabeen at Raleigh’s Al-Iman school and the two discussed how students at the school balanced and blended their American and Muslim identities, and the universal need for respecting others beliefs and backgrounds.

Listen here, or below.

 

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SEANC Exec. Dir. Dana Cope

SEANC Exec. Dir. Dana Cope

UPDATE, 2:20 p.m.: Dana Cope resigned Tuesday afternoon from his position with SEANC, saying he had “blurred the lines between my personal life and my professional life,” according to WRAL.

For those who may have missed it, the News & Observer published an investigation this weekend detailing some questionable spending that’s gone at the State Employee Association of North Carolina under executive director, Dana Cope.

The former treasurer of the employee association group, a N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Medicaid analyst, brought her concerns to the newspaper about several purchases at the association. Those purchases included over $100,000 paid to a landscaping firm also doing work at Cope’s personal residence and flying lessons the association paid for Cope to take.

From the N&O article, by investigative reporter Joseph Neff:

In March 2014, the State Employees Association of North Carolina wrote a check for nearly $19,000 to Perspective Concepts LLC, a defunct computer company in Washington, D.C.

But the check was cashed by Perspective Landscape Concepts, a new Apex company that was also working at the home of Dana Cope, SEANC’s executive director.

Cope says the check was for emergency work for irrigation and drainage at the SEANC office.

SEANC’s own files suggest otherwise. A memo justified the check as computer work done by the D.C. company with a name very similar to the local landscaping company. The owner of the computer company said he closed the firm in 2003 and never worked in North Carolina. Cope and SEANC’s general counsel admit the memo is phony but will not explain beyond saying it’s a personnel matter.

There was irrigation work done at the SEANC building four months later. But that work cost $685.25 and was done by a long-established company in Garner, records show.

Since last March, Cope has directed SEANC to write checks totaling $109,078.50 to Perspective Landscape Concepts, the company also working on projects at Cope’s Raleigh home, or to its owner, Perry Pope.

The landscaping bills are one of several spending practices that are being questioned by some former members of SEANC’s executive committee. They question whether Cope has blurred the lines between his personal finances and the finances of an organization largely supported by dues from its members, 55,000 current and retired state employees.

You can read the original investigation here.

The group’s executive committee is standing by Cope, and issued a statement saying that it had looked into the purchases Neff referred to and found everything above board.

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