A University of North Carolina Board of Governor’s working group has spent months reviewing more than 225 centers in the UNC system. Looking to cut $15 million from a budget, the UNC centers are often times duplicative or highly politically partisan in nature. The working group has now whittled their list down to 34 centers that have been moved to the final review phase for either consolidation, funding cuts or elimination.
Civitas has written in the past about these UNC centers. A particular standout of the centers left in the final phase is the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. The organization first founded by John Edwards and now run by full time liberal activist and part time UNC law professor Gene Nichol (1 class taught each semester for over $200,000 salary).
In 2013, through a public records request, we discovered that the UNC Poverty Center held restricted “invitation only” conferences in 2011 and 2013. Both conferences were held to plan and implement a partisan left-wing lobbying and advocacy campaign. Most of the attendees were people and organizations that were members of the Blueprint NC “eviscerate” network, the “Out-of -Control Network” and Moral Monday organizers which were pushing a blatantly partisan agenda.
Our October 2013 request was met by foot-dragging and a firestorm of political outrage from the UNC law school and its allies. A group of liberal professors led by Nancy MacLean (Duke) compared us to Nazis, newspapers across the state accused Civitas of intimidation, and the university did everything possible to stonewall our request. At the time, we were mystified by the sudden liberal opposition to transparent government, but after reviewing the results of our request, it now seems clear why there was so much push-back from Gene Nichol, the Poverty Center’s director, and his friends – they wanted to hide what should have been public knowledge.
In September of 2013, UNC faculty at the Poverty Center began planning a conference that would ultimately be titled “Poverty, Partnerships, and the Public Good.” At Nichol’s direction, the Poverty Center began soliciting participants and invitees for the conference. Dan Gerlach of the Golden LEAF Foundation expressed concern about the political tone of the invitation: “I would be cautious about attending given my Board makeup if this turns into a political fight against the current regime.” In his response, Nichol reassured Gerlach that there would be no such “political fight.” But in correspondence with Tim Tyson, a Duke Professor, Nichol’s tone changed sharply. Tyson wrote that he would “come holler at the panel … [and] tell folks … [to] run McCrony[sic]-Pope over with the Steamroller of Love.” Nichol responded: “[T]hanks my brother. I do want you to yell a little bit. Or maybe a lot.”
The March 28, 2011 conference was entitled: “A North Carolina Summit: Progress and Economic Justice in a Time of Crisis” and was just as partisan as the 2013 Conference. Speaker after speaker, elected officials and other political activists railed against the legislative majority and conservative groups in general.
Evidence gathered from public records requests of the UNC Poverty Center suggest the organization held invitation only, partisan conferences in violation of University Policy and was involved in a partisan left-wing lobbying and advocacy campaign. The November 2013 conference included 28 members of Blueprint NC “eviscerate network”, 6 members of the Out of Control Network and 2 members associated with the Moral Monday. Control Network and 2 members associated with the Moral Monday. This record warrants the inclusion of the Poverty Center in the ongoing review of all UNC centers by the Board of Governors. It also should serve as a warning of how these centers often serve the narrow advocacy interests of a select few and do not really serve as centers of education and research in keeping with the mission of a public university.