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Gene Nichol

Prof. Gene Nichol

John Drescher, the executive editor of Raleigh’s News & Observer, had an odd and flawed column over the weekend regarding UNC Law School professor Gene Nichol entitled “Gene Nichol doesn’t regret column about Pat McCrory.” (Full disclosure: Nichol used to serve on the Board of the NC Justice Center, NC Policy Watch’s parent organization).

It was odd because it awkwardly combined what was, by all appearances, a brief news report/interview with Nichol along with Drescher’s own take on Nichol’s falling out with the state powers that be  — some of which stemmed from some columns Nichol has authored for the N&O. Drescher quoted Nichol as saying he had no regrets in likening Governor McCrory to reactionary conservative governors from the Civil Rights era. As Nichol told Drescher:

“I said he was a successor to them.I do think it’s fair. I think it’s accurate. I’m not saying he’s exactly the same.”

But then Drescher went on to tack a commentary of his own into the last few sentences of the column in which he rejected Nichol’s explanation. According to Drescher:

“By going after McCrory in a personal way, Nichol made it easy for his opponents to focus on Nichol and ignore his broader, more significant message.

Professors ought to be able to write in The N&O (or anywhere else) without fear of retribution from politicians or their appointees. But they should inform us through research and lead us though debate at a high level that is focused on ideas and aspirations. In that regard, Nichol came up short.”

Hmm – let me get this straight, John. Are you really saying that “professors” should never issue “personal” barbs and only “inform us through research”? Really? Why? Indeed, what the heck does that even mean? And how do you define “research”? What was Nichol supposed to do — insert footnotes in his columns? Read More

News
UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque at the Feb. 2015 meeting. (Photo taken by Sarah Ovaska)

UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque (Photo taken by Sarah Ovaska)

John Fennebresque, a Charlotte attorney who serves as chair of the UNC Board of Governors, responded this week to criticisms of recent decisions  to raise tuition, close three academic centers and get rid of its much-respected system president, Tom Ross.

In an editorial published Thursday by the Charlotte Observer, Fennebresque said the board was happy with Ross’ performance but wanted to bring a fresh perspective to the 17-campus system.

From Fennebresque’s editorial:

We recognize some of our recent efforts to move the University forward have generated criticism and concern for some. Our decision to raise tuition is as unpopular with the board as it is for the people of North Carolina, and it further illustrates the need to look closely at everything the University is doing.

As I have said previously, President Tom Ross has led the University with distinction throughout his tenure. Our decision to proceed with a leadership change had nothing to do with his performance, but simply reflects our belief that all great institutions can benefit from a change in leadership from time to time.

We will conduct a national search for the next UNC system president with great care. We intend to carry on the long tradition of selecting a president of the highest caliber to lead and build on UNC’s foundation of excellence.
Read more here.

 

The board is moving ahead with its presidential search, and this week chose nine members to serve on a nominating committee to select the members who ultimately will screen applicants.

Fennebresque said he hopes to have hired someone by this fall. Ross’ contract keeps him at the helm of the university system until 2016 Read More

News

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.

Read More

News

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

Commentary

In case you haven’t yet read them yet, do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to read the statements issued yesterday by UNC Law School Dean Jack Boger and Professor Gene Nichol in response to the the recommendation of a special committee of the UNC Board of Governors to close the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. Here is an excerpt from Boger’s statement:

Jack Boger“The BOG special committee rests its recommendation on no genuine reason beyond a barely concealed desire to stifle the outspokenness of the center’s director, Professor Gene Nichol, who continues to talk about the state’s appalling poverty with unsparing candor. The committee’s original charge was to cut funds to centers that spent too much and to redirect their state aid toward other projects. On that basis, targeting the Poverty Center makes no sense at all. The center hasn’t taken state tax dollars since 2009, and its modest staff — a few earnest post-JD law graduates and an army of dedicated student volunteers — are housed in three small rooms nestled in an off-campus building and paid through private sources.

In prior decades, the University of North Carolina won the hearts and the gratitude of the state’s people by combating the scourges of peonage and child labor, of woefully inadequate medical care and appallingly bad public education. These earlier faculty-led initiatives drew fierce opposition from those who managed to benefit from others’ poverty and oppression. Yet the University pressed ahead, fulfilling what Dr. Frank Graham once celebrated as ‘a tradition of our people': that in Chapel Hill they would find ‘a place where there is always a breath of freedom in the air . . . and where finally truth shining like a star bids us advance and we will not turn aside.”

The Special BOG committee would constrict that breath of freedom. It would order the Poverty Center to turn aside from investigating conditions of human misery in our state that cry out for greater attention, not less.’

And this is from Nichol’s inspiring response:

Gene Nichol“Poverty is North Carolina’s greatest challenge. In one of the most economically vibrant states of the richest nation on earth, eighteen 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 9th, speeding past the competition. Greensboro is America’s second hungriest city. Asheville’s ninth. 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 commonwealth. Even if our leaders never discuss it…. Read More