Dear Commons Community,
An advisory panel of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors has recommended closing three academic centers, including a poverty center and one dedicated to social change, inciting outrage among liberals who believe that conservatives in control of state government are targeting ideological opponents in academia. As reported in the New York Times:
“Conservatives are cheering the move, seeing it as a corrective to a higher education system they believe has lent its imprimatur to groups that engage in partisan activism.
“They’re moving in the right direction, though I don’t think they went far enough,” said Francis X. De Luca, president of the Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank based in Raleigh. “A lot of these centers were started up with a specific advocacy role in mind, as opposed to an educational role.”
But critics say the moves by a panel whose members were appointed by a Republican-dominated Legislature reflect the rightward tilt of state government.
“It’s clearly not about cost-saving; it’s about political philosophy and the right-wing takeover of North Carolina state government,” said Chris Fitzsimon, director of NC Policy Watch, a liberal group. “And this is one of the biggest remaining pieces that they’re trying to exert their control over.”
The impassioned response is the latest manifestation of a deep ideological rift in North Carolina that was exacerbated by the 2010 elections, when Republicans took control of both houses of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. They soon enacted an ambitious conservative agenda in what had been one of the South’s more moderate states.
The fate of the 17-campus public university system was bound to be affected: While many here take pride in its carefully cultivated rise to the top tier of American public education, conservatives have long groused about some campuses, particularly the flagship school at Chapel Hill, as out-of-touch havens of liberalism.
Since the recession began, the state government has also subjected the system to budget cuts leading to the loss of hundreds of positions.
Twenty-nine of the 32 university board members were appointed by the Legislature after the Republicans’ 2010 gains. Last year, lawmakers instructed the board to consider redirecting some of the funding that goes to the system’s 240 centers and institutes, which focus on topics ranging from child development to African studies.
The advisory group’s report, which is likely to be considered by the full Board of Governors next Friday, recommends closing the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at Chapel Hill; North Carolina Central University’s Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change; and East Carolina University’s Center for Biodiversity.”
It is sad commentary that one of the truly great public university systems in our country is being forced to submit to the whims of ideologues.