The wailing over the closing of a University of North Carolina-based center has at least one fringe benefit: It underscores why the closing was needed.
John Fennebresque, chairman of the Board of Governors (BOG) of the UNC System, in the News & Observer wrote: “Over the last five months, a committee of our board reviewed all 240 centers associated with the university system in an open and transparent process. We applied the same fact-based criteria to each center to evaluate the cost, financial sustainability, interdisciplinary reach and value to UNC.”
Let’s look at how cautious the board was. It closed three centers. Three of 240.
Pick any 240 enterprises, and a bigger percentage will flop. Eight of 10 new businesses will fail in the first 18 months. The BOG closed only one out of 80 centers.
Yet the action raised a clamor, with the loudest coming from the UNC Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity at the School of Law.
“The members of the Board of Governors have demonstrated unfitness for their high office,” center head and UNC law professor Gene Nichol harrumphed in the N&O. “Their actions represent a profound, partisan and breathtakingly shortsighted abuse of power.”
But it’s the center that has abused its status.
“After careful review of the Center on Poverty – which included an opportunity for the center director to fully describe its work – the board concluded the center was unable to demonstrate any appreciable impact on the issue of poverty,” Fennebresque wrote.
To see for yourself, look at the center’s website. It offers a shortage of original publications, especially in recent years. Nor does it unveil any significant cases in which it reduced poverty. If there were any major examples of the center’s success, rest assured its friends in the media would have trumpeted the news.
Moreover, the center is at best a distraction from the university’s mission of educating students.
Consider Nichol himself. He makes a good salary, more than $200,000 a year at UNC – for teaching one law course per semester. That’s not much work, though, admittedly, he has at least kept himself out of poverty.
Is that the best way to further the university’s mission? Nichol reportedly is a good teacher. Yet he seems to spend much of his time not teaching but furthering the agenda of liberal groups, and using the good name of UNC to do so. And, in the Tar Heel State, that name is of immense value.
But what is most disturbing is the mindset this kerfuffle has revealed. The Left is outraged that representatives of the people dare to question an institution the people pay for. The nerve!
The center’s supporters say closing it was an act of repression.
Think of that: The public’s representatives ask a publicly supported enterprise to justify its existence. The enterprise fails to do so. Public support is withdrawn. That’s repression!
Real repression, however, arises when such a government-sponsored institution is beyond criticism or control. In other words, the people of North Carolina must never dare question something their tax dollars sustain, or something that supports our betters in the campus aristocracy.
Of course, history shows that, where public institutions are immune to review or revision, then repression is truly a danger.
The truth is that in a land of freedom, government-sponsored entities must undergo thorough scrutiny at all times. When those entities go off the rails or outlive their usefulness, they must be reformed or shuttered. Freedom can exist only when the people exert control over the institutions that act in their name.
In North Carolina, the UNC Board of Governors has taken a small step to restoring that vital authority. More such steps should follow.
—Jim Tynen is communications director of the Civitas Institute.