From the Director
As many of you
know, the UNC Board of Governors moved, a few weeks ago, to close the
privately-funded Poverty Center. In an act of state-imposed censorship, the
Board abolished an academic center because it disagreed with the published
writings of the Center’s director. It would be hard to envision a more defining
violation of academic freedom.
But as the
Board announced its intentions, I am deeply touched to report, an impressive
array of foundations and private donors stepped forward to assure that the work
of the Center, if not the Center itself, will be able to continue at the
University of North Carolina. Generous grants and donations will allow us to
create the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund at the UNC Law School. This
Fund will assure that our efforts to describe, document and combat the
wrenching challenges of Tar Heel poverty continue and expand.
The Fund will
allow us to hire student, faculty and post-doctorate scholars to assist me in
probing the causes of, and solutions to, pervasive economic injustice. We will
carry forward the work of the Center within the halls of the University with
greater flexibility and increased resources. North Carolinians are not easily
cowered. They react poorly to petty tyrants. They always have.
If you would like
to contribute to the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund, gifts can be made
online or by mail. For online contributions, visit http://www.law.unc.edu/alumni/support/gift/ and click the "Give Now" button. Choose the "NC Poverty Research
Fund" from the drop-down box. For gifts by mail, please visit the same link
for instructions and mailing address.
I have no words
to match the gratitude I feel for the astonishing support the Poverty Center
has received from thousands across North Carolina and the nation. Students,
faculty, alumni, engaged citizens, activists, social services providers,
political, religious and institutional leaders and, perhaps most movingly, Tar
Heels living at or below the edge of poverty have raised their voices and
banners in protest. Whether pressing for research on economic justice, or more
broadly for university-defining traditions of academic freedom, your words and
actions have seared our hearts and, not infrequently, moistened our eyes. They
are not to be forgotten.
Gene Nichol, Director, Center on Poverty,
Work & Opportunity
The work of the Center has continued apace despite external distractions. In order to spark awareness, Gene Nichol has spoken on poverty and inequality to groups across the state and beyond. He gave talks at Duke University's Sanford School, the School of Law and the School of Nursing/School of Medicine. Nichol gave the keynote address in honor of Martin Luther King Day in Southport, NC. He also delivered keynotes at the UNC School of Law Public Interest Retreat, the Virginia Trial Lawyers annual convention, a statewide "Bread for the World" conference and others. With Heather Hunt, he discussed Native American poverty at the UNC American Indian seminar series as well as speaking at other venues at UNC and elsewhere.
While Center will close, law students will have the opportunity to gain exposure to, and think deeply about, issues of law, policy and poverty, thanks to a new class taught by Nichols in the fall. Called "Poverty and Public
Policy in North Carolina," the seminar will examine the nature, extent and characteristics of poverty in North
Carolina. The class will examine the demographics of economic
hardship in the state as well as narrative and particularized instances of the
burdens and barriers of poverty. Issues of economic inequality will also be
explored in relationship to specific state constitutional mandates such as
access to the civil justice system, equal opportunity in public education, and
constitutionally assured access to public higher education. Finally, the
seminar will examine, in detail, the impact of various recent North Carolina
public policy decisions on low income Tar Heels. Topics will include health
care and Medicaid expansion, unemployment compensation reductions, Earned Income Tax Credit elimination and other tax policy changes, cuts in childcare
and other employment supports, reductions in support for North Carolina food banks,
K-12 and early childhood education and voucher programs, and the like.
Thanks to all who turned out for what is likely to be our last event--our panel on law wage work. It is fitting that the panel featured some of the tremendous scholars at UNC as well as dedicated anti-poverty advocates representing a variety of North Carolina regions and constituents. Our panel was convened partially to celebrate the creation of a wonderful online tool for examining low-wage work in North Carolina. The website (http://www.lowwagenc.org/) contains a plethora of information--much of which can be downloaded and shared--about this growing portion of our state economy. The panel also addressed many aspects of low-wage work: who low wage workers are and how prevalent; the characteristics of low wage work; the relationship between low wage work and policy; the impact of low wage work on individuals trying to make ends meet.
Panelists were William T. Lester (UNC Department of City and Regional Planning), Arne Kalleberg (UNC Sociology), Carol Brooke (NC Justice Center) and Raquel Lynch (Crisis Assistance Ministry in Charlotte). Patrick Conway (UNC Economics) served as moderator and led a great audience discussion.
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