Following up on my previous posts (links below): News & Observer, UNC Law School Rallies as Legislators Consider Big Budget Cut:
UNC law alumni are building their case against a budget cut that they say would be catastrophic to the state’s oldest professional school.
As state House and Senate budget negotiators work out their differences in the coming days, supporters of the UNC School of Law are working the phones and sending emails to try to win legislators over. The Senate, which rolled out its budget last month, proposed a $4 million reduction, which amounts to 30 percent of the school’s state appropriation. The more recent budget plan, from the House, had no cut for the law school.
The prospect of losing such a large share of their state funding is more than worrisome to the school’s leaders. It would, no doubt, lead to cuts in staff and programs at the school, said Martin Brinkley, dean of the school.
“If we had a cut like that, it would be really difficult to not have a significant personnel impact at some level,” Brinkley said. The law school’s total annual budget this fiscal year was $31 million. About 70 percent of the school’s budget is personnel cost, according to Brinkley. He said he had not devised a specific plan for how the school would deal with the size cut the Senate proposed. Instead, he said, he’s focused on keeping the cut from happening.
A small group of well-connected UNC law graduates has met every couple of days to talk about strategy, said 1986 law graduate Walter Fisher, managing partner of the Raleigh and Charlotte offices of Troutman Sanders, an international law firm. ...
Two years ago, a proposed $3 million cut to the law school did not come to pass. At the time, then-Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca said: “If there’s anything we have too much of, it’s lawyers.”
This year, talk of cuts comes at a time when the school’s Center for Civil Rights is under the microscope by legislative appointees to the UNC Board of Governors. Some board members want to stop the center, which represents low-income, minority clients, from filing lawsuits against local governments and government agencies. The proposed ban on litigation could be decided late this summer for the UNC center, which is privately funded.
There’s been little explanation about the reason for the proposed cut in a year when the state’s coffers are healthy and spending increases are planned in other areas. But some think Republican lawmakers’ threatened cut is aimed squarely at Gene Nichol, former dean and well-known liberal who has been critical of GOP leaders in commentaries for The News & Observer’s editorial pages.
In 2015, the UNC system board abolished the law school’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, directed by Nichol, who charged that the decision was purely partisan. Protesters said it was a violation of academic freedom. The center shut down, but within days Nichol had launched the N.C. Poverty Research Fund as part of the UNC Law Foundation. ...
Rep. Verla Insko, an Orange County Democrat, speculates that the school’s generally “left of center” faculty, especially Nichol, have drawn attention from the Republican-led legislature. But, she said, it’s hard to imagine a 30 percent cut to the school’s state funding. “My guess is that it’s a warning shot, and that they’ll take some cut but not the whole thing,” Insko said. ...
Fisher, the law school alumni leader, said, “We do have one or more members of our faculty who are extraordinarily vocal about their opposition to things that members of the General Assembly are supportive of. That, at least in some instances, has been unhelpful to us.”
Fisher thinks the school has dropped in the national rankings because of the lack of appropriate funding for scholarships, salaries and other priorities.
The school ranks 38th currently in U.S. News & World Report’s ratings. In 2000, it ranked 22nd.
Prior TaxProf Blog coverage: