Proposed Cuts to UNC Research Centers Reveal Conservative Agenda

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The Huffington Post is out with an article detailing the conservative attack on select higher education programs at UNC. Mandated by Governor McCrory in 2013 to cut $15 Million to university research centers, the mostly Republican Board of Governors has decided to make cuts to programs which include the Carolina Women's Center; the UNC Center for Faculty Excellence; the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History; the UNC Institute on Aging; and the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. In total, 34 centers are facing budget slashes, eight of which are located at UNC-Chapel Hill. From the article: 

If North Carolina is any indication, the nation's system of publicly funded higher education, as of now the envy of the world, will be threatened.

The state's Republican-led legislature has launched an ideological drive against the state's publicly funded academic institution, the University of North Carolina system. In 2013, Gov. Pat McCrory (R) instructed the university's Board of Governors to identify some $15 million in budget cuts to university research centers -- a move in line with Pope's desire to slash the higher education budget. Pope was named the state's deputy budget director soon after the tea party seized control in the state.

A seven-member working group identified 240 such centers, before whittling that number down to 34 for further evaluation. Of that number, eight are based at UNC-Chapel Hill. The targeted programs include the Carolina Center for Public Service; the Carolina Women’s Center; the UNC Center for Faculty Excellence; the Center for Law and Government; the James B. Hunt, Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy; the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History; the UNC Center for Civil Rights, the UNC Institute on Aging and the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. Later this month, a review of the UNC system and its 16 campuses will determine the fate of those academic centers.

The article also describes the ongoing struggle between conservatives and the Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity, along with it's director Gene Nichol. From the same article,

The Poverty Center was founded in 2005 by former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who later ran for president on his 'Two Americas' anti-poverty platform. North Carolina has seen record levels of poverty since the Great Recession, and the center studies poverty and work, advocates for policies that mitigate poverty and holds panels on the issue. It is privately funded and runs on an annual budget of about $120,000, none of which comes from the state. It uses some university resources, which enables the university's board to shut it down. It also receives some state grants, which it would need to return if it closed.

Nichol took charge of the center in 2008, after being forced to resign as president from the College of William & Mary. Nichol said he was undone by an organized group that took issue with his removal of a cross from the campus chapel and a decision not to ban a sex-workers art show in the name of free speech.

Just a few years later, Nichol would once again come to draw the ire of conservatives. Prompted by the Republican sweep of the state's offices in 2010 and their subsequent decision to cut unemployment benefits and reject the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, Nichol went on offense. In editorials for the Raleigh News & Observer, he slammed the GOP for waging an “unforgivable war on poor people." In another, he criticized Gov. McCrory for signing a voter ID bill, referring to him as “hapless Pat” and comparing him to segregationist George Wallace.

Republicans took notice. Two conservative think tanks published a response to the column, arguing that the political activity was inappropriate for a public college professor that earned a salary paid by North Carolina taxpayers. "Pat called from Mississippi this morning,” Ed McMahan, a Republican working group member, wrote to the board’s chairman, an apparent reference to Gov. McCrory.

Nichol says state legislators told him that if he didn't stop the attacks, it would mean the end of the Poverty Center. He eventually agreed to the following disclaimer under his columns: “He doesn’t speak for UNC.”

The Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank with ties to the billionaire Koch brothers, took aim at Nichol by filing a public records request in search of his correspondence at the university. In a post on its website, the group accused the professor of "gross impropriety of using taxpayer-funded resources for political purposes," and alleged that he violated state law. Civitas and the Pope Foundation have long called for culling state research centers as a way to save funds.



  1. Helen Fowler's avatar
    Helen Fowler
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    Civitas doth protest too much. Helping the poor kinda is a political purpose. How can it not be? The Board of Governors is doing great damage to the intellectual foundations that help our best and brightest innovate solutions to complex problems. How else are we going to be able to come back from the Republican legislature's scorched earth?
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