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.
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.”
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.