Viewpoint

Perception is reality with UNC Board of Governors

Excerpts of a letter Charlotte lawyer Luke Largess, of Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, sent to the UNC Board of Governors after it voted to close three centers at the university:

The illogic in closing three university centers to save $6,000 a year, and the feckless public denials that this vote had anything to do with the viewpoints of those three programs, has been a demonstration of the rationalization of power that may be the most important life lesson my two children currently enrolled in the UNC system will learn during their college years.

From the outside looking in, there has been a sea change in the composition of the Board of Governors at the direction of the legislature and the governor. They ordered this review in last year’s appropriations bill. It was not your idea. The super majority in the legislature has denounced any use of science in long range coastal planning, and you have closed an ECU biodiversity center located in that coastal plain and declared that the remaining nine marine science and coastal studies centers will be subject to a separate “special” review. The legislature passed a voter ID law that has been criticized as targeting minority voters, and you closed a center at a historically black university that promoted voter registration in minority communities. The legislature has also passed lightning-rod changes in social programs, including dramatic new eligibility rules for unemployment insurance and the refusal of Medicaid expansion. And you close a UNC center studying poverty, whose head is one of the fiercest critics of those new policies.

I am sorry, but you are seen as doing the bidding of those who appointed you. That deeply troubles those who believe the university system has been at the heart of North Carolina’s emergence as a state and who also believe that a university has to be a place of academic independence. The op-ed efforts to explain the decisions have come across as disingenuous. An op-ed piece by NC SPIN host Tom Campbell the day of the vote admitted that the poverty center was self-supporting, but then claimed it was a distraction during a time of limited resources; claimed that poverty has not been alleviated, so the center is not working; and finally said that Gene Nichol should remove himself from the post so that someone without Nichol’s “baggage” could take up the issue. Campbell admitted that the issue was Nichols.

Perception is reality. You have created a perception that the BOG wants to control points of view on issues that are politically important to those who appointed you. You have conveyed such a short-sighted vision of the University system’s role in the state that it deeply troubles many, many people. This is a low-water mark in UNC history.

Please listen to those who are concerned. They have reason to be.

Correction

A letter in Thursday’s Forum said President Obama had not visited Israel as president. He did so in March 2013.

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