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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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Commentary

UNCNC Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska is on the scene in Charlotte today so be sure to follow her tweets at @SarahOvaska as the UNC Board of Governors takes up multiple major controversies. Meanwhile, if you’d like to get a better handle on what the board ought to be doing today, be sure to read these two pieces:

#1 is NC Council of Churches contributor Steve Ford’s excellent essay which was posted on the main Policy Watch site on Wednesday: “UNC Board of Governors should reject recommendation to close poverty center.” To quote:

“The Board of Governors committee that now calls for abolishing the poverty center may have done its perceived bidding. The full board, however, would do well to acknowledge the reality that Gene Nichol as a tenured law professor won’t easily be silenced. The board’s wise play would be to show some healthy independence from legislative pressure and to extend the center’s lease on life, in full recognition of how it helps the university system carry out its public service mission.”

#2 is the lead editorial in today’s Charlotte Observer: “Tough times for UNC system.” As the Observer rightfully notes: 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

News

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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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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