The 27% of blacks in North Carolina who live below the poverty line is more than twice the 12% of poverty-stricken whites in our state, which makes the timing of the BOG panel’s recommendation last week all the more ironic.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly appoints the UNC System Board of Governors, which is made up almost exclusively of white male Republicans. Last year, the Legislature directed the university system to shift $15 million from its network of 240 centers and institutes to core academic functions. The panel making the recommendation of which to whack chose three. Of those, two — N.C. Central’s Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change and UNC’s poverty center — work directly with marginalized populations to level the playing field.
How much would the state save by closing down the poverty center? $0. Not a penny. The center is funded entirely by grants and private donations. But by taking away the center’s affiliation with UNC, the poverty center would have to give back the grant money it received.
Some have said the recommendation is political. The poverty center’s director, tenured law professor and former UNC Law School dean Gene Nichol, has criticized some decisions made by the Legislature and the McCrory administration that have been detrimental to the poor.
Some have said it’s a business decision. McCrory puppeteer Art Pope has made a very good living off of the poor through his empire of Family Dollar and other discount stores. The more poor people in the state, the larger his customer base.
Some have said the BOG is operating out of middle-school cliquishness. Nichol speaks passionately and about injustices, and that may prick the consciences of some of the “haves” in power, who respond by trying to silence him.
Fortunately, Nichol won’t be silenced. The BOG can cut UNC’s ties with the center, and the poor in the state will suffer from the loss of the center’s good work. But Nichol is a tenured professor and is constitutionally protected in telling what he knows.
Here’s where the town of Chapel Hill can step in and show that the values that drew many of us to town are alive and well and in practice. One of the proposals for the 100 W. Rosemary St. building is for it to become a civil rights museum. The museum would not take up the whole building. The town could offer office space to the poverty center and UNC’s Center for Civil Rights, which has been put on notice by the BOG for not having sufficient diversity of opinion. All it would cost the town is the rent differential between what the museum and centers would pay and higher-paying tenants.
In recent years, a majority of elected officials and town staff have shifted away from supporting efforts to take care of people who historically have been oppressed. Offering room to the museum and two centers would be a cost-effective way to get us back on track.
– Nancy Oates