Cravey stood up and began reading aloud a statement in support of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity — and continued reading as a police officer escorted her out. Students applauded.
Cravey was among several faculty members and two dozen students who protested at the meeting, where the board voted unanimously to close three UNC-system centers, including the center on poverty.
But the board conducted most of its discussion on the centers in a small room that excluded most of the public — sparking debate about the board’s compliance with the state’s open meetings law.
When the board began discussion on Friday, students and faculty interrupted them by reading statements on the centers and chanting about freedom and democracy. They ignored demands to “please be quiet” from board Chairman John Fennebresque, effectively halting the meeting.
Some students were escorted out by police. Fennebresque eventually called a recess, and the board moved to a smaller room where most members of the public were kept out. A live feed of the meeting was set up in the original room.
“It’s a public space, and they wouldn’t let us in,” said UNC senior Shilpi Misra, a member of the N.C. Student Power Union.
Amanda Martin, general counsel for the N.C. Press Association, said she thinks the board was in violation of the state’s open meetings law.
“The law doesn’t say ‘watch meetings’ but ‘attend’ meetings,” Martin said in an email.
The N.C. Court of Appeals has said that the law requires reasonable access to meetings — and Martin thinks the board moving to a smaller room is unreasonable.
“There are procedures in place to remove disruptive members of the audience,” she said.
Still, UNC-system President Tom Ross said the move was warranted because students wanted to stop the meeting.
“It was a public meeting, and it stayed a public meeting,” he said during a news conference.
Students protested from outside the room as the meeting continued, often muffling board members’ comments as they shouted.
Friday marked the end of a sweeping review of the system’s 237 centers and institutes. Critics argue that politics motivated the closings.
“There was no targeting. I can assure you of that,” said board member Jim Holmes, chairman of the working group that did the review.
On the poverty center, he said the review revealed that “it didn’t need to be a center.”
But Cravey said in an interview that she thinks this particular Board of Governors cares less about the UNC system than previous boards.
“I really think it’s a historic turning point for UNC.”