Transparency and the Ivory Tower

As the old saying goes, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” But some North Carolina professors have decided that they are neither goose nor gander. In a letter delivered to Gov. McCrory this week, university professors affiliated with a group called Scholars for North Carolina’s Future wrote:

…we call on [Gov. McCrory] to condemn the Civitas Institute’s demands for six weeks’ worth of personal email correspondence, phone logs, text messages, and calendar entries from [UNC Professor] Gene Nichol … citizens may reasonably infer that a sitting administration is using a private tax-exempt nonprofit organization funded by one of its leading officials to retaliate for criticism of its policies and intimidate future dissent.

The letter went on to say that Civitas’ request for public records from Gene Nichol was an “abuse of power” that was “unprecedented in our state’s political history.”

Where to start?

First, a few points of clarification: Civitas did not request Nichol’s “personal email correspondence.” The request was for all email correspondence from Nichol’s official work email address. State employees are routinely instructed that correspondence from state email accounts is a matter of public record. This is a major distinction, and leads one to wonder whether the obfuscation was deliberate.

Additionally, our request for public records is materially unrelated to Gene Nichol’s recent column – however scurrilous – in the News and Observer. The two are related only insofar as they reminded me that the UNC Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity – of which Gene Nichol is the director – had been unresponsive to an earlier public records request that Civitas filed in 2011. Both Nichol and the Poverty Center have been the subject of repeated controversies. Some alleged that the Poverty Center, started in 2005, began in order to help John Edwards prepare for his 2008 presidential campaign. Many questions still remain about how the Center is using taxpayer funds.

The professors’ description of our public records request is incomprehensible because any citizen can request public records, at any time, for any reason. That’s because our democracy relies on transparency: So-called “sunshine laws” bring the light of public scrutiny into the dark corners of our state government. Just this year, public records requests by the Civitas Institute helped to expose multiple instances of corruption and waste in Raleigh. Similarly, public records requests filed by media outlets uncovered scandals in the UNC athletics department.

In a recent press conference, professors said that they were not opposed to transparency or public records requests. Why, then, do they only oppose public records requests by Civitas? The answer, I believe, requires taking a closer look at the organization that produced this letter. Scholars for North Carolina’s Future (SNCF) positions itself as an impartial body of experts. From the “About Us” section of SNCF’s web site:

Sometimes, our research expertise … bears directly on policy matters. To support smart policy and draw attention to misconceived or destructive policy is part of our responsibility as trained researchers and writers in a democratic nation.

That’s misleading, to say the least. SNCF is an activist organization that advances a far left-wing agenda. The organization was founded earlier this year. Before it was rebranded several months ago, the organization was called Scholars for a Progressive North Carolina. The organization requires its members to use their academic credentials to influence public discourse:

In order to become a member of the group, academics must commit to performing at least one public activity each year such as writing an OpEd, developing talking points, giving a presentation, serving on a panel, delivering expert testimony to a legislative or administrative body, or reviewing research related to the work of SNCF affiliates.

Press Release 1

Impartial experts?

So who are those affiliates? Let’s see:

SPNC Affiliates

Duke CLASS Center:

  • This ultra-liberal center at Duke “explores the … important question of social sustainability: how the quality of jobs and working people’s collective power – or lack thereof – affect individual well-being, social health, and democracy itself. The center is closely tied to unions like the AFL-CIO.

NC Justice Center/Progressive Voices/Progressive Pulse:

Effectively, Scholars for North Carolina’s Future provides an academic echo chamber for North Carolina leftists. Most SNCF members are anything but impartial experts: Diane Nelson, for example, is a Duke professor who founded the Duke Radical Action Group and made national headlines for suggesting that her students strip to protest a speech by David Horowitz. Additionally, 12 of the signatories in the letter condemning Civitas, for example, were also signatories of the infamous “Group of 88.” The Group of 88 incurred national condemnation for their full-page ad in the Duke Chronicle accusing lacrosse players of racism and sexual assault. This turned out to be patently false.

After examining the source of this complaint against Civitas, it seems hard not to conclude that this is not just another political stunt from the Left. Either these professors are so deluded that they think public records requests do not apply to taxpayer-paid academics, or they are cynically seizing on another opportunity to attack and “eviscerate” conservatives across the state.

In either case, our records request will remain intact.

This article was posted in Education, Issues, Politics by Francis De Luca on December 17, 2013 at 2:24 PM.

© 2011 The Civitas Institute. Visit us on the web at www.nccivitas.org.
This article can be found at http://www.nccivitas.org/2013/transparency-ivory-tower/

Comments on this article

  • 1

    Jweaks
    Jweaks Dec 18, 2013 at 10:06

    Don’t stop. Keep fighting. Let the sunshine in!

  • 2

    Atnor
    Atnor Dec 18, 2013 at 12:32

    Hmm, wonder what their position would be if I, as a private NC citizen, did a similar info request on each one of these professors? :)

    It’s nice of you guys to offer an explanation, even when it’s not necessary. I really fail to see how these requests are somehow “abusive” or “intimidating”.

    That just seems like a very baseless complaint.

    I’m curious now though… what excuse did Mr. Nichols and the university give for not fulfilling the 2011 request? Is it still open? Any reason it’s taken this long?

    This “echo chamber” group is such a joke… their smug self-importance and condescension being just empty, contradictory foot-stomping makes me chuckle. Good job guys :)

  • 3

    Geppetto
    Geppetto Dec 18, 2013 at 13:13

    These are the folks that intend to achieve their “rightful” place at the top of the pile. They are certainly entitled to their political and ideological views. Problem is, they and their ilk have been at this for decades and apparently feel it is time to reap the fruits of their efforts to indoctrinate Americas youth. Obama, their ideological soul mate, has been elected not once but twice with a large percentage of the so called millennials among his most ardent supporters. These people will not go quietly into the night, They do not believe their progressive, social justice ideology is far left. To them they are mainstream and it is the conservative, Tea Party, Civitas, patriotic Americans, etc. who are the radical extremists. The new age “terrorists” who must be silenced. But not to fear. These pinheads are the champions of diversity, freedom of speech, as they define it, racial equality, peace, love and all that good stuff. Let us “terrorists” never allow them to take away our right to bear arms.

  • 4

    Lisa Perry
    Lisa Perry Dec 18, 2013 at 17:01

    What about student privacy rights in this request? Faculty emails are full of student correspondence relating to grades or classroom performance, which is protected by FERPA.

  • 5

    Ed
    Ed Dec 29, 2013 at 22:52

    Nichol was Dean of the law school. Fascinating to hear him and his allies moan and whine about a request akin to the civil discovery process, which happens daily.

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