Partisan Agenda Or Fair Representation: UNC Board of Governors Considers Cuts

Dec 11, 2014

Update Friday 5:00 p.m.:

Listen to Frank Stasio's conversation with reporter Jeff Tiberii here. Tiberii has been attending and reporting on the meetings this week.

Update Friday 9:27 a.m.:

Protesters lined a walk way at UNC-Chapel Hill Wednesday, before a Board of Governors work group convened.
Credit Jeff Tiberii

For two days this week some members of the UNC Board of Governors heard presentations about centers and institutes on campuses across the state. It's part of a review that was mandated earlier this year by the General Assembly. It's a review that some say is long overdue, and others claim is a partisan exercise. 

About two dozen student protesters lined the walkway to the general administration building on Wednesday morning.

"People of marginalized identities have had to fight to make a space at these universities. And we don't want to see that repealed in some bureaucratic decision by people who were not even elected, and were appointed by a Republican majority legislature," said sophomore Elizabeth Brown, an organizer with the North Carolina Student Power Union.

The General Assembly ordered the UNC Board of Governors to consider reallocating funds from 240 centers and institutes at UNC Campuses. 

Vishal Reddy is a Junior at Chapel Hill. He's concerned about a lack of diversity on the board.

"It's strange that this Board of Governors is here to make best decisions for students and communities yet just looking at the demographic make-up of the Board of Governors they definitely on paper don't even represent the population in general."

That initial list has been whittled to 27. It now includes centers from Wilmington to Cullowhee, ranging from risk and insurance to Cherokee Indians.

"This is a big moment for the University of North Carolina - and a scary one," explained Gene Nichol. Nichol is Director at the Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity - one of nine centers in Chapel Hill still under review. The others include the Women's Center, Civil Rights Center and Stone Center for Black Culture and History.

'I don't see how you could look at the list of centers being reviewed in Chapel Hill and not come away with the notion that this has a very heavy, partisan political agenda.'

"I don't see how you could look at the list of centers being reviewed in Chapel Hill and not come away with the notion that this has a very heavy, partisan political agenda," Nichol added.

Nichol has been an outspoken critic of the Republican-led general assembly --- and says op-eds he has written have resulted in threats to close the Poverty Center. On campus, some faculty members and students have referred to this entire review as the "Gene Nichol Censorship Initiative."

In addition to Nichol there were roughly two dozen other presenters this week.

"Part of it is seeking to understand the context - you know it's not clear to see the return on investment so I think the questions are legitimate; I think there needs to be some education about the context and that one size doesn't fit all," said, Terri Shelton, Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development at UNC-Greensboro.

Each presenter explained what various centers do, where funding comes from, how many students and faculty are involved in the mission, and why independence is important.

"There is no policy that governs creation; there is no policy that governs review," said Jim Holmes,  chairman of this working group. He disagrees with the notion that this is political.

'This is really not a partisan activity. We represent the University of North Carolina. There is not one person on this board that doesn't want to do what's best for the enterprise as a whole.'

"You know - it's really not. Once you get to this board, this is really not a partisan activity. We represent the University of North Carolina. There is not one person on this board that doesn't want to do what's best for the enterprise as a whole. It's not a partisan effort. We're here trying to do the best we can for the whole system and to be sure we're executing on our charge."

Holmes says the task is to better understand the roles of centers, not to just terminate them. He notes that almost 90-percent of the centers have already been validated. The group could also recommend redirection, repurposement of funds, or termination.

"We all agree that there are valuable components that aren't easily measured - there's social metrics, there's economic impact, there's all sorts of intangible pieces," he said.

Holmes believes the review is fair and hopes people agree once the outcomes are announced. That is expected to happen in January.

Update 11:00 a.m.:

Protesters lined a walk way at UNC-Chapel Hill Wednesday, before a Board of Governors work group convened.
Credit Jeff Tiberii

A partial group of the UNC Board of Governors will hear more presentations today about centers and institutes across the statewide system. The group was asked by the Republican-led legislature to consider funding cuts.

"We all agree that there are valuable components that aren’t easily measured – there’s social metrics, there’s economic impact, there’s all sorts of intangible pieces," said Jim Holmes, chairman of this working group.

In recent months this group has narrowed a list of about 240 centers down to 27.

The Republican-led General Assembly charged the board of governors with considering reallocation of funds from centers to other areas within the UNC system. The group can validate, re-purpose funds or terminate money – to those centers still under review. 

Holmes said the board will not make recommendations until January.

Here are some of Jeff Tiberii's tweets from the Wednesday meeting:

>>Look at more protest photos from the News & Observer.