This week a working group of the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors recommended the closing of three research institutes at three separate UNC System schools. North Carolina Central University’s Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change (ICESC) was one of the institutions recommended for termination, along with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity and East Carolina University’s North Carolina Center for Biodiversity.
North Carolina Central University’s (NCCU) ICESC has mainly advocated for voter empowerment and equity in underrepresented communities, in particular African-Americans and other communities of color. The institute has been a driving force behind the voter registration process on the campus and in the community that surrounds it.
The BOG was given the task to review the UNC Systems’ 240 research institutes. In addition, to these three institutes they recommended the, “review or termination for 16 of the centers, as well as a policy explicitly banning university-backed political advocacy,” according to WRAL.
The NAACP itself under the direction of Rev. Dr. William Barber, who is also a NCCU Alum, has publicly criticized, protested, and led marches of thousands of people against this the policies of this particular North Carolina General Assembly and Governorship. This legislature is controlled in both the House of Representatives and Senate by Conservative Republicans. This is important to note considering that the Senate and House of the NC General Assembly elects all 32 members of the BOG to four year terms.
The New York Times reports, “Twenty-nine of the 32 university board members were appointed by the legislature under 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.”
This leads many to believe that the recommendation is more rooted in ideology and the internal political atmosphere of the state rather than any substance.
Chris Fitzsimon, director of NC Policy Watch, a liberal group, told The New York Times, “It’s clearly not about cost-saving; it’s about political philosophy and the right-wing takeover of North Carolina state government,”
This all represents a deep divide in the state of North Carolina as opponents to this recommendation make the case that the Republican lawmakers are attempting to attack the academy in areas that might be contrary to their ideology. The conservative supporters are making that case that this recommendation begins the process of correcting the higher education system that they feel engages in “partisan activism.”
Most recently, the Legislative Black Caucus of North Carolina General Assembly has expressed its opposition to the proposal. This is the Caucus that is made up of 35 Senators and Representatives of African-American and Native American heritage. Not only have they expressed their opposition but have recommended to the Board of Governors to provide system-wide center training.
With the group’s recommendation likely to come before the full board for consideration this Friday (Feb. 27th), this all leads to a huge decision that will have to be made by the BOG with greater implications for NCCU, the other institutions, and the freedom of higher educational institutions.
Additionally, the recommendation reveals a harsh reality for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities that are a part of state supported systems. That reality is that they are often subject to the politics of the state, which can be all too hostile towards them and their commitments as an institution to a broader impact in the community that goes beyond the regular classroom setting. NCCU’s founding motto is “Truth & Service” and that is what the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change has represented. This recommendation by this group of the UNC Board of Governors clearly wants NCCU to renege on that motto and the vision of Founder Dr. James E. Shepard.
(NOTE: A petition was started earlier this week on Change.org with the goal of reaching 1,000 signatures. The petition has now been signed by over 1,000 supporters. The Board of Governors will meet Friday, Feb. 27 at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte at 9 a.m. There they will vote on the recommendations of the proposal. The petition will be presented there. In addition, student groups from institutions across the state have planned to demonstrate at this meeting.)