North Carolina Law Faculty Support Academic Freedom

A few days ago, a University of North Carolina Board of Governors’ working group recommended shutting down three centers on university campuses, including Chapel Hill’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity — even though the center is self-funding.  Critics of the decision, including John Charles “Jack” Boger, dean of the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law, say the recommendation was an effort to shut down the work of the center’s head, law Professor Gene Nichol. Boger said in a statement that the working panel “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 center — a nonpartisan, interdisciplinary institute designed to study and advocate for proposals, policies and services to mitigate poverty — operates on $120,000 a year and, if closed, will return private money secured to keep it functioning through 2016.

Now, members of the law faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill have signed a statement deploring the recommendation to close the poverty center and are also opposing another recommendation by the panel that the university tighten policies banning political participation and limiting advocacy. Here’s the statement:

A Statement from UNC School of Law Faculty in response to the recommendation by a working group of the UNC Board of Governors to close the UNC Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity, and narrow the activities of the Center for Civil Rights.

We, the undersigned members of the UNC School of Law Faculty, write in opposition to the recent recommendation of a working group of the UNC Board of Governors (BOG) to close the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity, and we stand in support of the advocacy work of the Center for Civil Rights in the face of a pending suggestion that it narrow its activities. Both of these centers are housed at the UNC School of Law. The recommendation to close the Poverty Center, if implemented, will deprive North Carolinians of critical research and education on poverty; chill academic freedom and inquiry; and hurt our law students who desperately need and greatly benefit from the real-world experience that interning there provides. Moreover, the proposal by some members of the BOG working group that the Center for Civil Rights be prohibited from suing the state or its political subdivisions – the usual defendants in civil rights suits – would fundamentally curtail its important work on behalf of marginalized groups. We urge the Board of Governors not to accept the working group’s recommendations regarding these Centers.

The Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity meets the pressing need in the state of North Carolina for research and education on the subject of poverty. Over the past decade, our state has experienced the greatest increase in concentrated poverty in the country. The Center has continually sought to call attention to this pressing fact, as well as others that many would prefer to ignore. These include that 25% of all children live in poverty, including 40% of children of color. The Center has for the past decade provided indispensable research and highlighted policies that would benefit the poor. Closing the Poverty Center will deprive North Carolinians of much-needed facts and analysis not available elsewhere.

Similarly, the Center for Civil Rights has long been an important institution at UNC and in the state, training the next generation of lawyers on these important issues, providing advice and representation to the state’s most marginalized communities, fighting to end our state’s legacy of segregated schooling, and working to ensure that low-wealth neighborhoods do not bear the brunt of environmental degradation. Prohibiting the Center for Civil Rights from suing the state or municipalities – typically the central defendants in any civil rights litigation – would eliminate an essential tool to accomplish its mission.

To the extent that the working group’s recommendation regarding the Poverty Center is based on animus for our colleague and former dean, Gene Nichol, the Poverty Center’s director, we decry it. Professor Nichol has been a prominent and thoughtful critic of proposals that exacerbate inequality and drive low-income people into ever deeper destitution. 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. 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.

Closing the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, and potentially curtailing the activities of the Center for Civil Rights, will also deprive UNC law students and young lawyers of important opportunities to learn to think critically, write analytically, and hone arguments under the tutelage of experienced litigators and scholars. Legal employers have for years complained that law graduates are ill equipped for the real-world demands of practice. These Centers provide students with crucial experience that makes them better, more ethical and more zealous lawyers. It is wrong to take these opportunities away – particularly when the Poverty Center and the Center for Civil Rights do not receive state tax dollars.

We implore the Board to reject the committee’s recommendations when it votes on these matters on February 27, 2015, and to defend the principles of UNC, articulated by the late Frank Porter Graham, president of UNC-Chapel Hill from 1930 until 1949: “Freedom to think, freedom to speak and freedom to print are the [university standard]. . . . Lux & Libertas is cut with native chisel deep in the stones quarried from local soil.”

  • David Ardia, Assistant Professor of Law and Co-Director, UNC Center for Media Law and Policy
  • Tamar Birckhead, Associate Professor of Law and Director of Clinical Programs
  • Kaci Bishop, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law
  • John Charles Boger, Dean and Wade Edwards Distinguished Professor of Law
  • Laura Collins Britton, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law
  • Lissa L. Broome, Wells Fargo Professor of Banking Law and Director of the Center for Banking and Finance
  • Alfred Brophy, Judge John J. Parker Distinguished Professor of Law
  • Kenneth S. Broun, Henry Brandis Professor of Law Emeritus
  • Patricia Bryan, Martha Brandis Professor of Law
  • Bernard A. Burk, Assistant Professor of Law
  • Alexa Z. Chew, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law
  • Andrew Chin, Associate Professor of Law
  • John M. Conley, William Rand Kenan Jr. Professor of Law
  • Michael Corrado, Arch T. Allen Distinguished Professor of Law
  • Charles E. Daye, Henry Brandis Professor of Law Emeritus
  • Maxine Eichner, Reef C. Ivey II Professor of Law
  • Lewis Moore Everett, Clinical Associate Professor of Law
  • Barbara Fedders, Clinical Associate Professor of Law
  • Victor Flatt, Thomas F. and Elizabeth Taft Distinguished Professor in Environmental Law and Director, Center for Law, Environment, Adaptation, and Resources
  • Laura N. Gasaway, Paul B. Eaton Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus
  • Deborah R. Gerhardt, Assistant Professor of Law
  • Michael J. Gerhardt, Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor in Constitutional Law
  • S. Elizabeth Gibson, Burton Craige Professor of Law
  • Thomas Lee Hazen, Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of Law
  • Jeffrey M. Hirsch, Geneva Yeargan Rand Distinguished Professor of Law
  • Donald T. Hornstein, Aubrey L. Brooks Professor of Law
  • Melissa B. Jacoby, Graham Kenan Professor of Law
  • Thomas A. Kelley, Paul B. Eaton Distinguished Professor of Law
  • Joseph Kennedy, Professor of Law
  • Catherine Y. Kim, Assistant Professor of Law
  • Anne Klinefelter, Associate Professor of Law and Director of Law Library
  • Joan Krause, Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor of Law
  • Holning Lau, Professor of Law
  • Arnold H. Loewy, Graham Kenan Professor of Law Emeritus
  • William P. Marshall, William Rand Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Law
  • Jon McClanahan, Clinical Associate Professor of Law
  • Steven Melamut, Assistant Director for Administration & Information Technology and Clinical Assistant Professor of Law
  • Robert P. Mosteller, J. Dickson Phillips Distinguished Professor of Law
  • Eric Muller, Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor of Law in Jurisprudence and Ethics
  • Beth S. Posner, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law
  • Gerald J. Postema, Cary C. Boshamer Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Law
  • Alice Ratliff, Clinical Professor of Law
  • Dana Remus, Associate Professor of Law
  • Richard Rosen, Professor of Law Emeritus
  • Kathryn A. Sabbeth, Assistant Professor of Law
  • Oscar J. Salinas, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law
  • Maria Savasta-Kennedy, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Externship Program
  • Richard S. Saver, Arch T. Allen Distinguished Professor of Law
  • Theodore M. Shaw, Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Civil Rights
  • Craig T. Smith, Assistant Dean for the Writing and Learning Resources Center and Clinical Professor of Law
  • Leslie Anne Street, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law and Assistant Director for Research and Instruction
  • Kathleen DeLaney Thomas, Assistant Professor of Law
  • William J. Turnier, Willie Person Mangum Professor of Law Emeritus
  • Sara B. Warf, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law
  • Judith Welch Wegner, Burton Craige Professor of Law
  • Mark Weidemaier, Ralph M. Stockton, Jr. Distinguished Scholar and Associate Professor of Law
  • A. Mark Weisburd, Reef C. Ivey II Distinguished Professor of Law
  • Deborah M. Weissman, Reef C. Ivey II Distinguished Professor of Law
  • Erika Wilson, Assistant Professor of Law
  • Janine M. Zanin, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law and Faculty Supervisor of the Externship Program

One thought on “North Carolina Law Faculty Support Academic Freedom

  1. Pingback: A Poverty Fund Reborn at UNC, and Critics Want to Destroy It | The Academe Blog

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