POLITICS

Protests Erupt Over UNC Board's Decision To Shutter Poverty Center

02/27/2015 02:54 pm ET | Updated Mar 11, 2015

University of North Carolina students and faculty raucously protested the board of governors' vote Friday to disband a poverty-focused think-tank led by a critic of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the GOP-controlled state legislature.

Approximately two-dozen protesters disrupted the meeting to voice their disapproval of the board's decision to close the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Some were escorted out by campus police at UNC Charlotte, according to the Associated Press.

The proposal to close the poverty center incited controversy after a working group charged with reviewing the system's research centers advanced it last week. Closure supporters on the board argued that the center did advocacy and therefore was inappropriately associated with an academic institution and that it "did not provide a wide range of alternatives for addressing poverty."

Since the center is privately funded, critics of the board's decision say that the process was politically motivated. The center's head, law professor Gene Nichol, wrote it was a "dark day" for the university in a statement following the vote. Nichol called the decision a reprisal act, given his criticisms of the state legislature for cutting unemployment benefits, rejecting Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and passing voting rights restrictions.

"None should be confused about what happened today in Charlotte," Nichol wrote. "The university’s governing board moved to abolish an academic center in order to punish its director for publishing articles that displease the board and its political benefactors. The governors said to a member of the faculty: We cannot allow your writings to go without rebuke. We may not be able to fire you, but we will do all we can to suppress your efforts. Criticisms of this governor and of this General Assembly, at this public university, are not to be tolerated. Were I to have praised the legislature’s war on poor people rather than decry it, the board would have placed laurels on my head instead of boots on my neck."

The UNC board also voted to close a center studying biodiversity at East Carolina University and one focused on civic engagement at North Carolina Central University.

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