Gene Nichol: UNC Board of Governors again threatens critics, nation’s first public university

Gene Nichol

Earlier this week Policy Watch investigative reporter Joe Killian broke the story of the unprecedented move by the UNC Board of Governors to refuse to re-appoint a respected law professor to the University of North Carolina Press Board.

Eric Muller has served two five-year terms on the board — the last six as its chair — helping UNC Press succeeding in its mission of advancing “the research, teaching, and public service missions of a great public university by publishing excellent work from leading scholars, writers, and intellectuals and by presenting that work to both academic audiences and general readers.”

As one source told Killian, Muller’s rejection is part of a larger strategy to remove dissenting voices from prominent positions across the UNC System. Now Prof. Gene Nichol of the UNC School of Law weighs in with his own take. Here’s an excerpt from Nichol’s editorial in today’s Raleigh’s News & Observer:

The campaign to destroy the University of North Carolina is picking up steam. With the UNC-CH Board of Trustees’ decision to deny tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones still making headlines across the globe, the Board of Governors (BOG) decided, once again, to directly enter the fray.

The BOG’s move was, no doubt, a slap at both Muller and UNC Press. Our political overseers are again striking high. The Journalism School, which got the back of the hand in the Hannah-Jones decision, is one of the top ten in the nation. The UNC Press is one of the most famed, accomplished, pathbreaking and venerated institutions affiliated with the University of North Carolina. Sort of like our basketball teams.

Eric Muller

The Press, founded in 1922, was the first university press in the South and is one of the oldest in the nation. It is the greatest publisher of works about North Carolina and the American South. Closely tied to Howard Odum and the Institute for Research in Social Science, it was one of the first publishers to establish a continuing program about African-American and, later, Women and, then, Native American studies. It has published over 6,000 titles and won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Bancroft Prize and the Frederick Douglass Prize. I’m not aware of any prizes the BOG has won. These Republicans have odd notions of “meritocracy.”

My colleague Eric Muller has been on the law faculty for almost a quarter century. He is one of the nation’s leading experts on the removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans in World War II. His three books on the internment have notably changed our understanding of that tragic era. He received the Patterson Prize in western history. His research, with Sally Greene, convinced the NC Supreme Court to remove the dominating portrait of Thomas Ruffin from its courtroom. And, of course, the opinion he proffered on the illegality of the multi-million dollar Sons of Confederate Veterans giveaway, that got him bounced by the angered BOG, turned out to be precisely true.

Muller is a rare academic of brilliance, generosity and courage. That won’t be tolerated by this venomous Board of Governors. The throbbing heart of the nation’s first public university is in mortal danger.

Read the full editorial here.

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