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The Daily Tar Heel

Branches of Gene Nichol’s poverty center crop up across UNC system

The poverty center is slated to close by Sept. 1, but the small group of faculty announced that more than 60 “branches” of the center have popped up across the UNC system.

The UNC-system Board of Governors voted in February to close the center, a decision criticized by many faculty members as a political attack on Nichol, a law professor at UNC.

A branch is designated when two or more scholars and their students decide to collaborate on research and teaching about poverty — and each one features a Carolina blue sticker.

“When social scientists at Chapel Hill explore the connections between poverty and the creation of wealth, income and wealth inequality and economic and racial disparities, they form a branch office,” said UNC anthropology professor Don Nonini.

“When humanistic scholars write and speak about the history and literature on poverty, capitalism, empires, racial oppression, national identity and class privilege, they constitute a branch office,” he added.

They’re housed in departments across UNC’s campus — including Saunders Hall and Bingham Hall, as well as in the UNC School of Law and the Kenan-Flagler Business School. Several branches have also appeared on other UNC-system campuses, including UNC-Pembroke and UNC-Greensboro.

Addressing passing students with a megaphone, faculty members stressed the importance of academic freedom and social justice on campus.

“We do not need the permission of boards of governors, assemblies, corporations, the Pope Center, tyrants on training wheels or anyone else to exercise our academic freedom and freedom of speech to study a topic of pressing public concern like poverty in North Carolina,” said UNC geography professor Altha Cravey.

While created in support of the poverty center, the branches formed independently, without the assistance of Nichol.

“I am, as ever, very grateful to be a part of a faculty that has such a remarkable commitment to academic freedom and the sense of public mission and obligation of the University of North Carolina,” Nichol said. “For those of us who work in the poverty center, the support has been breathtaking.”

Nonini and other faculty called the closing of the poverty center temporary. He said he fully expects the board to reopen the center. If not, he said the branches will consolidate and launch a new center.

Even if the center is not re-established, faculty and students will continue research into eradicating poverty.

“I think it’s quite clear that no occupying Board of Governors is going to be able to stomp out research on poverty at the University of North Carolina; they’re not going to be able to change the character of this institution, which is after all, the University of the people,” Nichol said.

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