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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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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
News

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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Wos-and-Nichol

DHHS Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos (left), and Gene Nichol of the UNC School of Law (right)

If you missed it over the weekend, there are two-must read stories on where North Carolina stands in expanding Medicaid.

The Winston Salem Journal’s Richard Craver had a sit down interview with state DHHS Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos, in which Wos said she would “soon” be recommending expanding the state Medicaid program to Gov. Pat McCrory.

So, how soon is soon? Craver writes:

“Everyone needs to know that Medicaid expansion is complicated,” Wos said, slowing down to pronounce each syllable in “complicated.” “There is no flipping of a switch.”

She said physical and behavioral health care system expansion must come first so the system is able to absorb additional participants.

“Our state has to have industry adapt to providing enough health-care providers, and that is a process,” Wos said.

Wos said a key element of building DHHS’ foundation is “getting new skills in finance, economists and actuaries, that are absolutely critical to our organization.”

“If I am allowed to continue on this path, I guarantee you we will have that foundation. The rest of the process is building upon that foundation with standards, with flexibility built in.”

“We’re not too far away. Soon.”

Gene Nichol,  director of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity,  – who does not speak for UNC – wrote in Saturday’s Raleigh News & Observer that the longer the state goes without expanding Medicaid, the more lives are lost.

Here’s an excerpt from Nichol’s opinion piece:

‘The consequences for poor people of being excluded from health care coverage are real and dramatic. Losses in health, losses in emotional well-being, losses in financial capacity, losses in opportunity. And, for some, it’s worse.

A recent Harvard study indicates a significant number of our sisters and brothers will experience premature and preventable deaths as a result of the General Assembly’s rejection of Medicaid expansion. Many “low-income women will forgo breast and cervical cancer screenings, diabetics will (fail to receive) necessary medications,” blood pressure pills and other preventative measures will be denied, “diagnosis and treatment of depression” will be diminished.

As a result, the scholars estimate, the number of Tar Heels who will perish at the hand of our politics may well exceed a thousand a year. The wound inflicted by the Medicaid vote is grievous, deep and sometimes mortal.

I’ve wondered how it feels to cast a vote that means thousands might needlessly die. I can’t get my arms around it. Looking in the mirror must become tougher duty. I can see not wanting to dwell on it.

But when you make a decision that means people may lose their lives, surely you have to do more than offer empty slogans and nonsense-laden talking points to defend it. Surely you have to show you’ve done something more than merely taken instruction, more than mindlessly repeated what you’ve been told – like some malfunctioning teleprompter.

At least you ought to show that you’ve thought it through for yourself. That you’re not just siding with one gang or the other or proving your antipathy for various adversaries.

When politics becomes lethal, responsibility ascends.’

Read the full story in the Winston-Salem Journal here, and the full Point of View column by Nichol here in the News & Observer.

(Note: Nichol is a board member of the N.C. Justice Center, the larger anti-poverty non-profit that N.C. Policy Watch is a part of).