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Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity fights Board of Governors’ cuts

In February 2005, the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity was developed for the research and study of poverty. North Carolina’s poverty rate is 13.6 percent above the national average.

The Board of Governors will decide whether it will cut funding to this and eight other UNC centers in February — but this center is privately funded.

“There are four potential actions that could happen, and one is termination, redirection, recommendations or they are all purposed and fine,” said Jim Holmes, chairman of the Board of Governors’ working group on centers and institutes.

Gene Nichol, director of the center, said if it were to close, the system would lose money.

“If it is closed, grant money will have to be surrendered,” he said by email. “It will cost the University money, not save it.”

When Nichol became the director in 2008, the center became much more focused on North Carolina, said program coordinator Heather Hunt.

“North Carolina is very much its primary focus, which comes from the idea that the University serves the people of North Carolina,” she said.

Hunt said the center does much more than just research.

“It exposes faculty and staff to new policies around poverty, learnings around poverty and raises the whole issue for some people in the first place who have never thought about it before,” she said.

She said it also brings people together from different disciplines.

“It allows them to contribute their own knowledge, but also learn from others, and that plays a really important role, especially at this campus which is so huge and there are so many different people doing so many different things,” she said.

“It is important to have representatives within academia who are willing to stand up and contribute to the larger policy debates within North Carolina,” she said.

North Carolina’s economy is a tale of two economies — the haves and the have-nots, said Tazra Mitchell, policy analyst at the North Carolina Justice Center.

“Advocacy groups and groups like the center are there to put a spotlight on poverty,” she said. “If you look at speeches and remarks made, you will rarely hear people utter the word ‘poverty’”.

Nichol stressed the fact that the center also currently offers internships and jobs for students and graduates.

“That’s too high a cost to pay just so some politicians can avoid criticism,” Nichol said.

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