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The Daily Tar Heel

Senate budget would cut law school funding by $3 million

The N.C. Senate's budget proposal would cut $3 million from the UNC School of Law's budget. 

The amendment, added to the budget by N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Buncombe, Wednesday night, directs the funds to the Mountain Area Health Education Center in Asheville instead. The center is both a health care provider and an educator of health professionals. 

N.C. Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, said he was surprised by the move, as were many of his colleagues — both Democrats and Republicans.

"It just seemed to be an unfair choice that (Apodaca) was making," Woodard said.

Chancellor Carol Folt expressed concern with the Senate's decision.

"We are disappointed and surprised with the Senate’s proposal to reduce funding to the University of North Carolina School of Law," Folt said in a statement.

"Our incoming dean Martin Brinkley and I will continue to meet with state lawmakers to underscore the importance of state support in maintaining a premier law school that provides great value to our state.” 

UNC law professor Alfred Brophy said the value the law school adds to the state can be found in the impact of graduates — whether it's directly defending the state or bringing needed skills to wherever they end up.

"The people who've had the opportunity to come here go back to, often times, whatever little community they're from, and then they're leaders of that community," Brophy said. 

He said one of the main values of UNC's law school would be hurt by cuts by the state — its relative inexpensiveness.

"This has been a place where people who are smart, hard working can come for opportunity," Brophy said. "That's one of the great public missions that our law school has had."

"Less of the state subsidy means we'll have to increase tuition," he said.

Woodard said he has no problem with the destination of the funds but thinks where the money is coming from is unnecessary. 

"I represent two rural counties in my district, and I support any efforts to expand health care, but the $3 million could be found in many many other places in the $21 billion budget," Woodard said. 

During the discussion Wednesday night, Woodard called the provision the "Gene Nichol Transfer Amendment," referring to the UNC law professor who has publicly opposed the Republican-led legislature. In February, the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, where Nichol was the director, was closed by the Board of Governors.

"We know that the leaders in the General Assembly have been very critical of Professor Nichol, his work at the poverty center, his commentary and his political activism," he said. "It seemed to me it was a clear shot at Professor Nichol and his work."

Nichol said in an email that he was sure the amendment targeted the law school because of him.

"It is a defining violation of academic freedom, Nichol wrote. "Any claim to the contrary is as comical as it is dishonest."

He said he also felt the General Assembly's actions were becoming habitual.

"First the poverty center had to go. Then the law school budget, without any input or review process, had to be gutted. Lots of odd coincidences here."

The Senate's $21.5 billion budget plan, which was passed Thursday 32-15, will now return to the House, where it is expected to be rejected. Afterwards, a conference committee with members from both the House and Senate would meet to create a compromise budget.

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CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story misspelled Sen. Tom Apocada's in one instance. The story has been updated to reflect this change. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

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