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AAUP Urges Board to Reject Poverty Center Closure

February 24, 2015
For more information, please contact: Henry Reichman, AAUP First Vice President, henry.reichman@csueastbay.edu
510-526-3837 or 510-303-9504 (cell)
or Jordan Kurland, Associate General Secretary,  202-737-5900, ext. 3647

The American Association of University Professors urges the University of North Carolina Board of Governors to reject a recommendation to discontinue the UNC School of Law’s Center on Poverty, Work, and Community. The center is reportedly seen by its opponents as an advocacy program for the economic and social betterment and the civil rights of the poor, the disabled, and persons of color.

As AAUP’s 2013 Statement on Conflicts of Interest says, “American universities have long been engaged with the institutions of the wider society, to their mutual benefit.” To be true to their mission, public universities must serve all members of our society, the poor as well as the privileged. Externally funded centers must be free to sponsor curricular and extracurricular programs and provide services to the public across the broadest range of perspectives and approaches.

A “Statement on the Proposed Closure of the University of North Carolina Law School Poverty Center” released today by the AAUP describes three past situations that relate to the case at hand. The first involved the University of Mississippi Law School; as a result of political pressure, the school in 1968 was compelled to separate itself from its legal services program, which provided services to the poor, and faculty were forbidden to do any legal services work even on a volunteer basis. A joint investigation by the AAUP and the Association of American Law Schools found that grievous violations of academic freedom had occurred.

The second was the 1960s North Carolina Speaker Ban Law, which prohibited alleged communists or Fifth Amendment pleaders from speaking at public colleges and universities. The AAUP with its North Carolina conference and its campus chapters actively resisted the ban for five years until its repeal was achieved.

In the third case, heavy political pressure and proposed punitive legislation followed the UNC faculty’s 2002 selection of a book on the Koran as a summer reading text for new first-year students. But after UNC president Molly Corbett Broad met with the board of governors and made forceful public statements in behalf of academic freedom, the board promptly followed by unanimously adopting a resolution in unambiguous support of academic freedom.

“Given its 2002 action upholding academic freedom, it will be greatly disappointing if the UNC board now backs away from it and bows to political pressure to close the Poverty Center,” says AAUP Associate General Secretary Jordan Kurland.  “We hope and expect, however, that the current board members will stay true to academic freedom’s values.”

The full statement is available on the AAUP’s website at http://www.aaup.org/povertycenter.

The mission of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is to advance academic freedom and shared governance, to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education, and to ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good. Founded in 1915, the AAUP has helped to shape American higher education by developing the standards and procedures that maintain quality in education and academic freedom in this country’s colleges and universities. The AAUP is a nonprofit professional association headquartered in Washington, DC.

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, February 24, 2015