TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, May 22, 2017

GOP Senate Cuts UNC Law School's Budget 30% As Payback To Liberal Faculty (Especially Gene Nichol), Rankings Slide From 20 (1979) To 39 (2017)

North Carolina LogoFollowing up on my previous posts (links below):  News & Observer, The GOP Crafts a Message to UNC, With a Chain Saw:

The state Senate took a chain saw to the University of North Carolina law school this month, cutting nearly a third of the state appropriation for one of the nation’s oldest law schools.

The official explanation from the Republican-controlled Senate is that we have too many lawyers in North Carolina. But not even the teenaged pages in the Senate believe that.

The GOP is sending a message: It thinks the law school faculty is liberal leaning, it doesn’t like the Center for Civil Rights, and it particularly doesn’t like Gene Nichol. ...

Nichol has been a repeated target of Republicans. Nichol, a UNC law school faculty member, has a talent for getting under the GOP’s skin with his sharp-edged newspaper columns accusing the Republican legislature of sucking up to the rich and piling on the poor. 

First the UNC Board of Governors — appointed by the legislature — killed the law school’s mostly privately financed Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity that Nichol headed.

Because Nichol is a tenured professor, the legislature could not go after his job. So they did the next best thing; they went after the UNC law school budget.

In 2015, the Senate cut $3 million from the law school budget. Democratic Sen. Mike Woodard called it the “Gene Nichol Transfer Amendment.” The money was restored in the House.

This month, the Senate was at it again, this time cutting $4 million, which represents a 30 percent cut. The measure is now being considered by the House. ...

Even without the proposed cuts, the law school is struggling to keep up with its sister schools. In 1990, U.S. News and World Report ranked the UNC law school the 20th best in the country, while in 2017 it was ranked 39th. ...

The law school is still rated highly by its peers (19th) and by lawyers and judges (20th), but is now 104th in the country in what North Carolina spends for it law students and 157th in scholarship money, according to U.S. News & World Report.

In other words, the law school’s reputation is still intact, but the school is not being funded as a top tier institution.

Previous TaxProf Blog coverage:

Legal Education | Permalink


Why is government funding a school for this wealthy profession at all?

Posted by: Fred Z | May 22, 2017 5:53:52 AM

Don't forget Nichol's firing as president of William and Mary. Justly deserved as well.

Posted by: wwp | May 22, 2017 5:56:43 AM

The libs always go for the throat. The conservatives should remember that the libs would starve if it wasn't for government. Consequently, the more the government gets cut, the less funding for libs. Starve the beast and the libs at the same time!

Posted by: mac | May 22, 2017 5:58:12 AM

So who wins in that pissing match?

Posted by: GPHanner | May 22, 2017 6:45:45 AM

UNC grad here. Time to cut the entire UNC budget by a third across the board. The place has lost its mind, its manners, and its ability to function. A severe pruning may help refocus a formerly great school on its core mission- academic excellence. Cut until change happens- starting with the elimination of all studies programs.

Posted by: doc | May 22, 2017 7:03:57 AM

Fred, UNC isn’t known for producing wealthy lawyers. Some are, but the school keeps its tuition low, which allows many graduates to take lower-paying public interest, small firm, and government jobs that benefit the public in NC. This includes rural and more conservative areas of the state. Without state support, tuition would have to go up and many grads would have to take high-paying jobs to pay off their loans.

Posted by: UNC Lawyer | May 22, 2017 7:21:14 AM

I'd posit that the biggest threat to the First Amendment on college campuses is not speaker protests, but snowflake senators that don't like the content of op eds.

Posted by: HTA | May 22, 2017 8:02:00 AM

I'm a graduate of both W&M and UNC Law. Why does Gene Nichol hate me so?

Posted by: Double alum | May 22, 2017 8:16:28 AM

Unc law school student body size since 2012: down 17%

Unc state funding since 2012: up 9%

Posted by: NC Joe Taxpayer | May 22, 2017 8:22:26 AM

Doc, when you send forth a volley of negative charges with no backing in fact, I think you should have the courage to post with your full name just as I do now. Then maybe I and a few others could carry out a dialogue with you based on facts.

Posted by: Bill Turnier | May 22, 2017 8:24:00 AM

UNC Lawyer,

If all these BigLaw jobs are available to UNC law grads, how do you explain that 10% of 2016 grads were completely unemployed, and 33% could not find JD required full-time, long-term jobs, 10 months after graduation? In reality, the top 20% or so of UNC law grads get Biglaw or federal clerkships, and the rest get whatever they can get (with about 40% getting truly terrible results). And your focus on tuition sticker prices is so 2006. UNC students on average pay more in tuition than Wake Forest students, due to the heavy discounting that goes on.

Posted by: NC Joe Taxpayer | May 22, 2017 9:37:32 AM

Gene Nichol ($214,571 current salary; teaches 3 courses per year) wrote this is 2012, when the NC state allocation for the UNC law school was only $12.1M (as opposed to $13.2M last year):

"So I am worried that we have exploded an economic model, or cracked it, without dramatically improving legal education in the process. We have undoubtedly made life better for ourselves. We've managed, broadly speaking, to assure the highest faculty salary levels, or at least among the very highest, in the academy. Our research support, leave policies, and teaching loads have become extraordinarily, and unnecessarily generous. We have, in short, made certain that legal education works powerfully for us."

61 J. Legal Educ. 345, 351 (2012)

Posted by: NC Joe Taxpayer | May 22, 2017 9:44:22 AM

NC Joe: I notice you don't cite to funding for UNC's LAW SCHOOL (and I'm pretty sure your numbers for the UNC system or campus are wrong). Funding for the law school has been going DOWN in that time period. Not up.

Posted by: NC Jane Taxpayer | May 22, 2017 9:51:52 AM

Coming up:lawsuit...

Posted by: Hoodude | May 22, 2017 9:57:56 AM

NC Jane,

State allocations to UNC Law School (total student body size in parenthesis)

FY 2012-2013: $12,088,493 (780)
FY 2013-2014: $12,040,305 (737)
FY 2014-2015: $13,158,799 (671)
FY 2015-2016: $13,190,567 (661)
FY 2016-2017: $13,183,403 (646)

The source is a document created by UNC in April 2017.

Posted by: NC Joe Taxpayer | May 22, 2017 10:28:45 AM

Since 2010, UNC Law's total full-time faculty has grown 10%, while the average law school during that time has shrunk 15%:

Law School Change in Faculty Size (2010-2016)
Wisconsin (state school) Down 28%
Arizona (state) Down 30%
Cal-Berkeley (state) Down 20%
Texas (state) Down 18%
Georgia (state) Down 22%
Illinois (state) Down 22%
Maryland (state) Down 22%
Alabama (state) Down 13%
NC-Central (state) Down 29%
Campbell (private school in Raleigh) Down 39%
Wake Forest (private school in Winston-Salem) Down 10%
Washington & Lee (priv. school in southern VA) Down 17%
GWU (private school in DC) Down 35%
Duke (private school in Durham) Up 1%
Mean Law School (US) Down 15%
Median Law School (US) Down 14%
UNC-CH (state) Up 10%


Thanks NC taxpayers!

Posted by: NC Joe Taxpayer | May 22, 2017 10:31:57 AM

Despite declining enrollments and the shrinking of law faculties nationwide, UNC Law hired six full-time faculty this year (, adding approximately $1,000,000 to the payroll (in salary and benefits) in a single year (salary source:

Posted by: NC Joe Taxpayer | May 22, 2017 11:13:49 AM

Wow, this post sure brought out the trolls!

Posted by: AnonLawProf | May 22, 2017 11:15:53 AM

UNC Lawyer:

"... the school keeps its tuition low, which allows many graduates to take lower-paying public interest, small firm, and government jobs that benefit the public in NC. "

1) As though Big Law is begging for candidates, and many UNC Law grads are not unemployed and not begging for lawyer-work wherever they can find it. As though they are taking government jobs out of the goodness of their pretty little hearts.

2) As though more lawyers in 'government jobs' benefits the public.

Posted by: b | May 22, 2017 11:17:00 AM

NC Joe Taxpayer,

Assuming you are who I think you are, you’re well aware of the reason that the ABA numbers since 2010 show an increase in faculty at UNC, as we’ve had the same discussion many times before. For those who aren’t aware, the primary reason for UNC’s early increase is our change from using adjuncts to teach legal writing and research to full-time legal writing faculty. I view that change as one of the best moves that UNC has made in recent memory. Legal employers regularly comment that UNC students and grads are among the best writers and researchers they see—as good as those from the very top ranked schools in the country. And, while one should be careful about using ABA faculty calculations (they don’t represent an exact headcount of faculty), if we’re going to discuss them, it’s also worth noting that UNC’s faculty size has traditionally been low relative to its student body. Indeed, even after the legal writing increase, in the latest reporting year UNC had a faculty-student ratio of 11.3, which is higher than most of your own list of schools.



Posted by: Jeff Hirsch | May 22, 2017 11:41:14 AM

I expect any "shortage" of new lawyers in NC can be easily remedied from law schools from other states, including law schools of higher rank than UNC. Markets work.

Posted by: mike | May 22, 2017 12:28:31 PM

I see that only Jeff Hirsh joins me it using his name on this stream of comments.

Posted by: Bill Turnier | May 22, 2017 1:51:13 PM

Seems like most people are missing the political retaliation aspect of the story, which is to say, they are missing the whole point of the story.

Posted by: HTA | May 22, 2017 1:53:35 PM

This is what psychologists call displacement. It’s an immature psychological defense where a person redirects their emotions onto a neutral person. North Carolina Republicans passed a discriminatory bathroom law that targeted transgendered individuals. Businesses, the NBA, the NCAA, and many other organizations launched a boycott costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars. The Republican governor lost reelection. Instead of acknowledging their errors, the Republicans in the legislature displace their anger on those pesky liberals at UNC law school.

Displacement is similar to another immature psychological defense known as projection. That is where a person attributes an unacceptable impulse onto another innocent person. This is what got North Carolina Republicans into trouble to begin with. Republicans, like Mark Foley and Dennis Hastert, project their Larry Craig bathroom fantasy onto transgendered individuals.

To the law professors at deans at UNC, welcome to the club. You are just the latest target of these buffoons. Just look at how the tea baggers have been attacking science for years now. It doesn’t matter that science can show that CO2 absorbs and emits infrared radiation, trapping heat in the atmosphere. In between peddling terrible investments in gold and sexually harassing women, Fox News hosts accuse scientists of engaging in a communist conspiracy to destroy ‘Merica with climate change propaganda. They even ignore people dying to advance their idiotic cause. We are starting to see people die in this country of nightmare pan-resistant bacteria. The bacteria are evolving resistance to all of our antibiotics. Yet, the Republicans don’t want to admit that life evolves. Impossible! Republicans even endanger our children with their latest anti-vaccer nonsense, taking root because of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Posted by: anon JD/MD | May 22, 2017 5:34:08 PM

Right you are HTA. Individuals who approve of retaliation against a law school because their ideological beliefs are at variance with those of some professors failed to grasp the basic teachings to which they were exposed in high school civics courses.

Posted by: Bill Turnier | May 22, 2017 7:29:54 PM

It's interesting to me that, with all the popular resistance to Trump, so many of the "people" appear to have more sympathy with the GOP than with liberal academia. Could it be that the hypocrisy of the latter group, talking constantly of social justice while paying themselves high salaries for mediocre work, could be part of this? Just sayin'.

Posted by: mike livingston | May 22, 2017 11:22:06 PM

To me the more interesting question is what Nichols has been trying to accomplish and whether his sharp-tongued editorials and the like are accomplishing it. It doesn't seem to me as if his strategy for engaging with the state's republicans has been a productive one. Perhaps it is a lack of political savvy, or perhaps engaging with the republicans constructively would have been a waste of time. Anyway it's a sad state of affairs for a justifiably proud law school. I wonder what the path forward is to improving the school's relations with the state. The relationship would appear to need a serious "reset."

Posted by: Jason Yackee | May 23, 2017 2:54:26 AM

Mr. Z: “Why is government funding a school for this wealthy profession at all?” One could ask why government funds a school to train physicians, who make a great deal of money. Or engineers. Or accountants. Or why the government funds roads for wealthy professions. Or why the government funds airports, which are used by wealthy professions. Why, oh why, does the government fund depleted oil reserves for wealthy oil magnates, or give land to railroad barons? Or give tax cuts to billionaires? Or give “free” education to prospective military officers, some of whom are the children of millionaires?

Posted by: Publius Novus | May 23, 2017 6:12:28 AM

The Gene Nichol drama is a distraction from the main issue, which is whether and to what extent NC taxpayers should be subsidizing this law school. Over the past five years, the state allocation has grown 9% while the student body has shrunk 17%. By my (very conservative) estimation, this has caused the net subsidy (the state allocation less the tuition dollars contributed to main campus by the law school) to more than double to $4 million per year. Should state taxpayers be subsidizing a law school to the tune of at least $4 million per year? Should a law school be allowed to unilaterally double its state subsidy simply by reducing its student body size without making commensurate reductions in costs? UNC Law still lives in the gilded age of 2006, thanks to the unwitting generosity of the North Carolina taxpayer. (And let's not pretend that anyone other than the faculty benefits from this. The JD admissions market works exceptionally well these days.)

Posted by: NC Joe Taxpayer | May 23, 2017 8:00:15 AM

@ Bill Turnier,

There is a difference between retaliating against Professors for the ideological beliefs that they hold versus retaliating against Professors for imposing ideological beliefs (of any kind) where they do not belong.

Law schools should be fairly neutral ground politically. Sadly, more and more they look like special interest organizations, and overwhelmingly on one side of the spectrum. That is worthy of consequences from the taxpayer in my opinion.

Posted by: JM | May 23, 2017 9:24:48 AM

I'm going to take this macro scale for a minute to thank North Carolina: your repeated discriminatory and/or retaliatory shenanigans - voter ID laws, anti-trans person agenda, the long knives against UNC, etc. - only make it easier for states like Massachusetts to thrive. We focus on getting the best and brightest from around the world to come to our schools and employers, and this sort of nonsense in NC makes us an easier sell than the Research Triangle. While the Electoral Integrity Project says that between the voter ID nonsense and the GOP-led legislature's attempts to strip the governorship of power after a Democrat won the last election have made the Tarheel State a flawed democracy in the vein of Venezuela or Iran, Massachusetts gave African-Americans the power to vote in 1780 and we manage to function rationally regardless of which party has the governorship (for all of MA's liberal bona fides, we've only had one Democratic governor since Dukakis in the 80's). While HB2 drives employers away from North Carolina, we gain world-renowned employers like GE. So thank you, North Carolina - your idiotic, malicious, self-sabotaging machinations only make us look better to everyone else.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 23, 2017 9:46:06 AM

It's clear that NC Joe has a personal ax to grind. I'm taking his comments with a grain of salt.

Posted by: AnonLawProf | May 23, 2017 11:11:29 AM

"Massachusetts gave African-Americans the power to vote in 1780."

Left unmentioned is the fact that the capital of this wonderful state routinely ranks as one the most segregated metropolitan cities in the entire country, according to the Census Bureau. Quite the feather in your cap...

Posted by: MM | May 24, 2017 7:40:38 AM

There are too many law schools in NC for the amount of legal work out there. That being said, there are only 2 public law schools in NC and Chapel Hill is the flagship. The real problem is the 5 private law schools in NC.

Posted by: Jason Witt | May 24, 2017 4:45:56 PM

This pretty much makes everyone involved--Republicans, the state of North Carolina, and some particularly vocally politicized members of the UNC faculty--look bad.

UNC is on a shoe string budget. The building in half a century old and looks worse than most public high schools. Its faculty are paid about 2/3 as much as faculty at the law schools it hopes to compete with. Junior faculty can't even afford to live in Chapel Hill, and end up living in Carrboro (not some place you want to live if you have a choice). Many of UNC's best professors have left for greener pastures--for Wash U, for Georgia, for Cornell, for Duke--to the detriment of its students.

The faculty did not play this smart at all. They thought they could shame the Republican legislature by pointing out that the Reps were behaving in a nakedly political and retaliatory manner. What they didn't realize is, Republicans have no shame. NC and Wisconsin are just the two latest examples.

No one is going to ride to the rescue or reward faculty for their stupid courage.

The smart move would have been to follow Alabama and Geogia's lead and appoint a moderate Republican Dean who could smooth things over with the legislature.

Posted by: cut of nose to spite face | May 26, 2017 10:32:24 AM