Friday, February 20, 2015

UNC anti-poverty advocate Gene Nichol blasts Board of Governors

Faced with a directive from the General Assembly to redirect $15 million from university research and policy centers  across the state, the UNC Board of Governors has spent months studying all 240 such centers systemwide. On Wednesday, the board's working group on the issue recommended closing UNC Chapel Hill's Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. The center's director, Gene Nichol, has been an outspoken critic of N.C. Republican leaders' policies concerning the poor.

Gene Nichol

He responded to their action with this statement:

Poverty is North Carolina’s greatest challenge. In one of the most economically vibrant states of the richest nation on earth, 18 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 ninth, speeding past the competition. Greensboro is America’s second-hungriest city. Asheville is 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.

And, astonishing as they are, these bloodless statistics don’t fully reveal the crush of economic hardship. That resides more brutally in the terror and despondency of the 150 or more homeless Tar Heels living in the woods and under the bridges of Hickory; or in the 1,100 wounded souls waiting in line, most all night long, outside the Fayetteville civic center, desperate for free dental care; or in the quivering voice of the Winston-Salem father who describes deciding which of his children will eat today and which, only, tomorrow; or in the daughter from Wilson fretting for her 62-year-old father with heart disease who can’t see a doctor unless he scrapes together the $400 he owes and has no prospects for.

Some believe such urgencies are beyond the focus of a great public university. Bill Friday wasn’t among them. An active and engaged Poverty Center board member, from its founding until the last days of his life, President Friday felt it crucial “to turn UNC’s mighty engine loose on the lacerating issue of poverty.” He constantly challenged our students: “A million poor North Carolinians pay taxes to subsidize your education. What are you going to do to pay them back?”

I’ve been blessed with a long and varied academic career. But none of my efforts has approached the extraordinary honor of working, side by side, with North Carolina low-income communities and the dedicated advocates and providers who serve them. Together, we have sought to focus a meaningful light on the challenges of poverty and to push back against policies that foster economic injustice. No doubt those messages are uncongenial to the governor and General Assembly. But poverty is the enemy, not the Poverty Center.

I have been repeatedly informed, even officially, that my opinion pieces have “caused great ire and dismay” among state officials and that, unless I stopped publishing in The News & Observer, “external forces might combine in the months ahead” to force my dismissal. Today those threats are brought to fruition. The Board of Governors’ tedious, expensive and supremely dishonest review process yields the result it sought all along – closing the Poverty Center. 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.

The Poverty Center runs on an annual budget of about $120,000. None comes from the state. Grant funding has been secured through 2016. These private dollars will now be returned. UNC will have fewer resources, not more. Two terrific young lawyers will lose their jobs. Student education, employment and publication opportunities will be constricted. Most importantly, North Carolina’s understanding of the challenges of poverty will be weakened. These are significant costs to pay for politicians’ thin skin.

Personally, I’m honored to be singled out for retribution by these agents of wealth, privilege and exclusion. I remain a tenured law professor. When the Poverty Center is abolished, I’ll have more time to write, to speak, and to protest North Carolina’s burgeoning war on poor people. I’ll use it.
Fifty years ago, Chancellor William Aycock testified against the Speaker Ban Law, saying if UNC bowed to such external pressures, as it does today, it would forfeit its claim to be a university. He noted: “Our legislators do not look with favor on persons, especially teachers, who express views different than their own.” But no public official can be “afforded such immunity.” Leaders “freely extol the supposed benefits of their programs, but object to their harmful effects being called to the attention of the citizenry. ... The right to think as one wills and to speak as one thinks are requisite to a free society. They are indispensable to education.”
--Eric Frazier


Larry said...

It is better to get all kinds of studies for those millions instead of helping people with those millions.

Got it.

Larry said...

Oh and I am sure we do not have Doctoral Students who would do that research as part of their studies, as that would take away from great dissertations such as, do chickens prefer good looking people, sex with robots and the like.

Ghoul said...

This idiots premises seems flawed, first he stated that a million poor pay taxed to educate students. The poor pay no taxes, in fact quite the opposite, they get tx money to support them, and I doubt there are 1 million of them in NC. How does he define poor, people who make less than he does?

Secondly he states the Center uses no tax money, so why is it closing if it is independent of the government?

Unknown said...

Could the Observer please do a little research into the background and past failures of Mr Nichols?
His past record paints him as a loser, rebel rouser, and hypocrite.
Nichols can continue his war on poverty, but do it in a different setting, nothing is holding him back.
And can the Observer please point to one success this anti-poverty group has ever acheived? Just one.

William Hollar said...

Ghoul - The quote is from Bill Friday, 30-year UNC leader who had much wisdom. The fact that you don't know what poverty means and that poor people pay taxes is an illustration of the need for the Center's work.
The Center provided educational opportunities officially for the University, though funded privately (cf. endowments).

It is closing because the current legislative crowd doesn't like to hear truth about NC's needs and the actual effects of their policies. They can't (and don't want to) handle the truth.

Skippy said...

Nice for the CO to give these progressive swine a platform

Outrageous Salary Exposed: On June 27, 2014, Lauren Cooley – presumably no relation to Thomas M. Cooley – wrote a College Fix article entitled “Law Prof Who Specializes in Poverty Makes $205,400 – Teaching One Class Per Semester.” The author comes out swinging:

“A controversial, outspoken law professor who frequently bashes Republicans and specializes in poverty issues as a self-proclaimed champion of the poor earns $205,400 per year – for teaching one class per semester.

The University of North Carolina School of Law pays Professor Gene Nichol $205,400 annually for his one class per semester workload. On top of his teaching salary, he receives a $7,500 stipend as director of the law school’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity.

The News & Observer maintains a public database of public employee and educator salaries, and lists Nichol’s salary at $212,900. Nichol, in an email to The College Fix, confirmed the figure is accurate.” [Emphasis mine]

Yes, what a just reward for such a “hardworking” man, huh?!?! As I have said before, typical housecats are more productive than these “educators.” At least, the felines keep mice out of your home.

Later on, Cooley reported the following:

“Yet while Nichol champions the poor – even chastising Republicans in a March News & Observer op-ed for its “unforgivable war on poor people” – it’s unclear how well he can relate to those living in poverty.

His wife, chief of staff for the UNC Health Care System and the UNC School of Medicine, earns $407,000 annually. Combining his and his wife’s salary, the couple makes at least $612,000 per year.

The Nichol family lives in a Chapel Hill home with a tax value of more than $1 million. They also own a bungalow on the beach at Emerald Isle, valued by Carteret County at more than $512,000. In the summer months, Nichol rents his four-bedroom bungalow for nearly $2,000 per week.

When asked by The College Fix about the large inequality between his income and the income of those in poverty, Nichol refused to respond.”

Unknown said...

Thanks Skippy for carrying the water for the Observer.
In the minds of the progressives like Nichol and John Edwards, and combined salary of over $600K per year is poverty, when compared to the other poor people in the country like the Clintons or Gores or CEO of McClatchy.

Unknown said...

The real crime is the amount of salary this teacher is paid.
One class- 4 hrs per week x 40 weeks of instruction (max)= 160 hrs of classroom total for the year, which equals more than $1,300/hr, paid by the taxpayers to keep this obese do-nothing on the gov't dole.
How many meals could be provided to the poor for the obscene waste of money?

Garth Vader said...

Nichol owns a home in Chapel Hill valued at over a million dollars, PLUS a beachfront home in Emerald Isle that he rents for $2,100 a week.

Also his > $200K salary is 60% higher than the average salary in his department.

Another limousine liberal celebrated by the dimwits on the Observer Ed Board.

Alannc44 said...

Dr. Nichols knew what he was getting into when he spoke his mind. He apparently had a lot to lose. Why would he take such a strong stance? Could it be he cares more about the direction the board is heading than his money?

I bet those thousands of over priced coaches and administrators in the system are keeping their heads down.

Wiley Coyote said...

We've been fighting the "war on poverty" since the 1960's and what do we have to show for it?


There are truly many people in this country living in abject poverty and we need to help them, but the definition of poverty, like diversity, is so bastardized to suite ones political argument that many of us have become numb to the constant blather about it.

When the USDA overpays benefits in the National School Lunch Program each year to the tune of $1.6 BILLION dollars (people who don't qualify) per year and a projected$2 BILLION dollars per year is wasted, (plate waste) just thrown away.

I have a very hard time getting excited about this blowhard's rant about $120,000 dollars.

suggestionnboxx said...

Gotta hand it to 'em. He, Edwards, Al Gore, and Sharpton sure are enterprising fellas and sure know who they can sell their worldly righteousness to.

suggestionnboxx said...

Gotta hand it to 'em. He, Edwards, Al Gore, and Sharpton sure are enterprising fellas and sure know who to sell their worldly righteousness to.

FKACato said...

Four points:

1) It's telling that nowhere in Mr. Nichol's piece does he mention anything specific that the Center on Poverty has accomplished towards its stated mission. Given his obvious moral vanity, if the CoP could point to having done anything worth doing, I'm sure Nichol would have let us know.

2) While the shutting down of the CoP was almost certainly politically motivated, the politicization has been a two-way street. Nichol has preened on behalf of a particular ideology and been more than willing to use his position in a government institution to further it. The voters of this state have elected a governor and legislature that disagree with him and that ideology. It's hard to blame them for punching back. Politics ain't beanbag.

3) Whoever is funding the CoP is very likely to be able to find other recipients that will be able to do whatever the CoP was supposed to be doing (and, again, Nichol never bothers to make that clear). There's no shortage of public-interest groups doing actual legal work on behalf of the poor, or trained social scientists who can rigorously examine the issues around poverty better than just about any lawyer can. The only material change is that Nichol won't be able to bloviate under the imprimatur of a UNC Center (which his stenographers in the press will uncritically report. See the original post for a sterling example).

4) This is speculation, but one wonders how open Nichol is to varying explanations regarding the causes of poverty in North Carolina. Does it include the influx of low-skilled immigration over the past 20+ years, underclass cultures that discourage responsible family formation and child-rearing, or the senseless requirement of having a bachelor's degree to be eligible for many middle class jobs? I doubt it.

Jeff Henson said...

UNC-Wilmington denied Professor Michael Adams a promotion because his advocacy espoused religious and political views that ran contrary to the opinions held by university officials. In his case, those views were both Christian and conservative. A jury found that Adams’ “speech activity [was] a substantial or motivating factor in [UNC-Wilmington]'s decision to not promote” Adams, and that [UNC-Wilmington] would not have reached the same decision “in the absence of [Adams'] speech activity.” As a result, UNC-Wilmington paid almost $700,000 in back pay and attorneys fees to settle Professor Adams' lawsuit.

Bubba said...

Why should a state be in the business of funding an obviously biased PAC by another name? Elections have consequences.

burtshabby said...

JobsJobsJobs is the way out of this problem not government dependence or poverty committees.