RALEIGH – The N.C. Republican Party and conservative groups blasted the creation of a research fund at UNC Chapel Hill started by lighting-rod law professor Gene Nichol, who recently lost his director position when the UNC system closed the Center on Poverty at the UNC law school. Nichols announced last week that he had secured private funding to open the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund to carry on the work of the poverty center to “explore, document, research, and publish about the immense challenges of economic hardship in North Carolina.”
N.C. GOP Executive Director Todd Poole released a statement Tuesday that called Nichol a “failure” at his former jobs and tied the professor to John Edwards, the scandal-ridden former Senator and presidential candidate who served as the poverty center’s first director.
Poole also brought up Nichols’s past as president of the College of William and Mary, where he was forced out after a few years. Many at the time described his tenure as one that shifted the college starkly left of center, and included a row over Nichols’s order to remove a cross from a campus chapel.
Jay Schalin of the conservative Pope Center for Higher Education Policy wrote in a column that the new fund “is blatantly about the politics, not the poverty.” Schalin called on the UNC Board of Governors to intervene to stop the fund.
“The mere change of names from Center to Fund does not make the academic unit any less a center,” wrote Schalin. “The name change instead appears to be an attempt to defraud—if so, Nichol and others involved should be sent packing.”
A spokeswoman for the Board of Governors has been quoted as saying that the research interests of a professor are not in the purview of the board.
Nichol, who writes opinion columns for newspapers, does not shy away from direct criticisms of Gov. McCrory and the legislature for policies he says harm the poor. He also does not avoid explicitly partisan groups.
While Nichol and others claim that the Center on Poverty was shut down because of his political views and activities, it was one of three centers that the Board of Governors voted to close after a review of more than 200 centers across 16 UNC system campuses. The two others closed were East Carolina University’s Center for Biodiversity and North Carolina Central University’s Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change.