New Fund At UNC-CH Looks Into NC Poverty

Jul 9, 2015

UNC School of Law
Credit Caroline Culler / Wikipedia Creative Commons

The UNC Law Foundation is offering a new venture for people interested in researching causes and solutions for economic hardship in North Carolina.

Rick White, UNC-Chapel Hill's Associate Vice Chancellor for Communications and Public Affairs, said the new North Carolina Poverty Research Fund will be overseen by an independent board.

"It's maintained in the UNC Law Foundation, which is an independent charitable foundation that supports the law school, and it supports research being conducted into the law school specifically on the causes and solutions to poverty," White said.

White added that the Fund does not provide direct financial support or stipends to faculty, and is run entirely by private donations.

In February, the UNC Board of Governors voted to close the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, housed in the UNC Law School.

Gene Nichol, a distinguished professor at the UNC School of Law, was the center's director. He co-signed an announcement of the new fund with a statement on the Fund's website saying the new program's mission is to "explore, document, research, and publish about the immense challenges of economic hardship in North Carolina."

"Thanks to the generosity of various North Carolina foundations, and engaged and committed citizens from across the state and nation, the Fund allows us to hire student, faculty and post-doctorate scholars to assist in probing the causes of, and solutions to, economic injustice in the Tar Heel state – and to publish, extensively, the fruits of our research," Nichol wrote.

White said he expects Nichol to apply to the new fund for research, but Nichol does not control its operations.

"Professor Nichol certainly has a passion for this research and I'm sure he will be applying for funding to support some of the research that he does, but he does not control the fund or head it up," White said.

Nichol has been criticized by conservatives for his positions opposing policies of the Republican-led General Assembly.When the Board of Governors closed the Center on Poverty, Nichol said it was a political move. The Board of Governors closed three centers, including the Center on Poverty. Jim Holmes, who chaired the committee that reviewed the centers, said the decision involved state funding.

“Our review of that center was no different from any other,” Holmes said. “I want to be exceptionally clear: This is not a comment on poverty.”

Conservatives have also been critical of the new North Carolina Poverty Research Fund. Jay Schalin, writer for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, wrote that the new Fund is too similar to Nichol's Center on Poverty.

"It appears that the name change is a deliberate ruse to circumvent the ordinary procedures for establishing an academic center. It fools nobody; the new center will conduct its business exactly the way the old one did," Schalin wrote.

Schalin said the Center on Poverty needed to be closed because it was not academic, and  it "openly took part in partisan politics."