The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday May 16th

Letter: ?An open letter to Chancellor Folt


Dear Chancellor Folt,

The undersigned faculty were dismayed, though not surprised, to learn of the Board of Governors’ report recommending the closure of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity directed by our colleague Gene Nichol. The reasons provided circulate around the notion of advocacy, a notion that has, we fear, been dangerously entangled with partisan politics.

The pursuit of knowledge cannot be divorced from taking positions on issues that may be controversial. To argue, for example, that vaccines are not a cause of autism, or that the poverty rate in North Carolina has increased relative to that in other states over the past five years cannot be easily disconnected from implications about what behaviors or policies may address such issues. But to judge statements about such implications immediately along the partisan divides of the moment short-circuits the academic work aimed at contributing to the general welfare of our society.

This attempt to shut down the work of the Center on Poverty strikes us as blatant censorship, directed personally at the center’s director, Gene Nichol. If his columns in the (Raleigh) News & Observer irritate readers in Raleigh, he is fulfilling the noble Socratic role of gadfly. His opinions, which are protected by academic freedom, are supported by facts, which it is the responsibility of academics to respect.

Our mission at UNC is to promote truths, however unpleasant they may be to some constituents. We call upon you stand up for our colleague Gene Nichol’s right to speak his mind and for the basic principle of academic freedom.

As our chancellor, we expect you to shield the University and its faculty against the Board of Governors’ ideas of what we can or cannot teach, what we can and cannot take as the subjects of our research. We urge you not to follow the recommendation made by the working group of the Board of Governors. 

Academic freedom is not a difficult position to affirm. We look to you to defend the most basic rights of our colleague. The Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity receives no state funding. We ask you to work out a way for the center to continue its good work studying the causes of and possible remedies to poverty. The Center on Poverty is doing work crucial to the well-being of the state, in keeping with the University’s charter.

This is not an issue about which we should be ashamed and silent. We are proud of the work Gene Nichol has done, and we hope that you are as well. He and his center deserve our support, not our capitulation. We implore you to use all your powers of leadership and stand with us on this most crucial issue.

Prof. James Thompson

English and Comparative Literature

Prof. Maria DeGuzman

English and Comparative Literature

Prof. John McGowan

English and Comparative Literature

On behalf of 136 other professors from across ?campus:

Adaora A. Adimora, Medicine and Epidemiology

Iluminada Amat, Romance Studies

Susan Andrews, Health Policy and Management 

Jan Bardsley, Asian Studies

Frank R. Baumgartner, Political Science

Ellery Beard

Trude Bennett, School of Public Health

Susan Bickford, Political Science

Tamar R. Birckhead, School of Law

Karen Booth, Women’s and Gender Studies

Kathyrn Burns, History

Dr. Emily Burrill, Women’s and Gender Studies

Kia Caldwell, African, African American & Diaspora Studies

Neal Caren, Sociology

Cristina Carrasco, Latina/o Studies

Juan F. Carrillo, School of Education

Tim Carter, Music

Claudia G. Cervantes-Soon, School of Education

Sharon Chen, Sociology

Patrick Conway, Economics

Renée Alexander Craft, Communication Studies 

Altha Cravey, Geography 

Elyse Crystall, English & Comparative Literature

Tyler Curtain, English and Comparative Literature

Elizabeth Dickinson, Kenan-Flagler Business School

Duane Deardorff, Physics

Marisa Elena Domino, Department of Health Policy and Management

Emilio del Valle Escalante, Romance Studies

Jean Dennison, Anthropology

Connie Eble, English and Comparative Literature

Maxine Eichner, UNC School of Law

Arturo Escobar, Anthropology

Mike Dimpfl, Geography

Florence Dore, English and Comparative Literature

Eric Downing, English and Comparative Literature

Mark Driscoll, Asian Studies

William Ferris, Center for the Study of the American South

Dominique Fisher, Romance Studies

Mary L. Floyd-Wilson, English and Comparative Literature

Leslie Frost, English and Comparative Literature

Rebecca Rae Garonzik, Latina/o Studies

Cynthia L Gay, Bioinformatics 

Beth Grabowski, Art and Art History

Virginia Gray, Political Science

Stephanie Elizondo Griest, English and Comparative Literature

Justin H. Gross, Political Science

Lawrence Grossberg, Communication Studies 

Minrose Gwin, English and Comparative Literature

Rob Hamilton, Communication Studies 

Glenn Hinson, American Studies

Dorothea Heitsch, Romance Studies

Jonathan M. Hess, Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures

Jennifer Ho, English & Comparative Literature

Marcia M. Hobbs, Microbiology & Immunology

Sharon L. James, Classics

Dr. Kenneth R. Janken, Center for the Study of the American South

Joseph Jordan, Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History

Ritchie Kendall, Honors Carolina; English and Comparative Literature

Scott Kirsch, Geography

Sherryl Kleinman, Sociology

Michael Lambert, Ph.D., Director, African Studies Center, Associate Professor of African Studies and Anthropology

Shayne Aaron Legassie, English & Comparative Literature

Peter Leone, MD, Professor of Medicine

Jonathan D. Lepofsky, Geography

Lisa Lindsay, History

Erika Lindemann, English and Comparative Literature

Federico Luisetti, Romance Studies

Hollie Sue Mann, Political Science

Cecilia Martinez-Gallardo, Political Science

William Maxwell, Geography

Malinda Maynor Lowery, Southern Oral History Program

Gary W. Marks, Political Science

Nina Martin, Geography

Megan Matchinske, English and Comparative Literature

Rahsaan Maxwell, Political Science

Joseph Megel, Communication Studies

Hassan Melehy, Romance Studies

Joseph P. Morrissey, Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research

Dennis Mumby, Communication Studies

Don Nonini, Anthropology

Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, African, African American, and Diaspora Studies

Maria J. Obando, English and Comparative Literature

Margaret O'Shaughnessey, English and Comparative Literature

Stevie Larson, Geography

Michael Palm, Communication Studies

Pat Parker, Communication Studies

Brian W. Pence, Epidemiology,

Rosa Perelmuter, Romance Studies

Andrew J Perrin, Sociology,

Louis A. Perez, Jr., History

Katya Pertsova, Linguistics

David Pier, African, African American and Diaspora Studies

Inga Pollmann, Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures

Beth S. Posner, UNC School of Law

William H. Race, Classics

Todd Ramon Ochoa, Religious Studies

Geovani Ramirez, English and Comparative Literature

Edward V. Rankus, Communication Studies

Ashley Reed, English and Comparative Literature

C. D. C. Reeve, Philosophy

Dana Remus, Law School

Álvaro Reyes, J.D., Geography

Michele Rivkin-Fish, Anthropology

Paul T. Roberge,  Linguistics

Rebecca Rutledge Fisher, English and Comparative Literature

Ruth Salvaggio, Professor, English and Comparative Literature

Patricia E. Sawin, American Studies

Lars Schoultz, Political Science

Sarah Sharma, Communication Studies

Sarah Shields, History

Tanya L. Shields, Women’s and Gender Studies

Pam Silberman, JD, Health Policy and Management

elin O’hara slavick, Art and Art History

Jay M. Smith, History

Jennifer Smith, Linguistics

Sara Smith, Geography

Anne Smith Hastings, Sociology

Sally Stearns, Health Policy and Management

Deborah Stroman,  Kenan-Flagler Business School 

Randall Styers, Religious Studies

Beverly Taylor, English and Comparative Literature

Matt Taylor, English & Comparative Literature

J. Michael Terry, Linguistics

Jenny Ting, Microbiology-Immunology

Jane F. Thrailkill, English and Comparative Literature

Milada Anna Vachudova, Global Studies

Gabriela Valdivia, Geography

Jina Valentine, Art and Art History

Richard Vernon, Romance Studies

Ariana Vigil, Women’s and Gender Studies

Linda Wagner-Martin, English and Comparative Literature

Deborah Weissman, Law School

Kathryn H. Williams, Dramatic Art

Erika K. Wilson, UNC School of Law.  

Steve Wing, Epidemiology

Sarah Workman, English and Comparative Literature

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