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Saturday, June 10, 2017

UNC Law School Alums Rally Against Proposed 'Catastrophic' 30% Budget Cut As Payback To Liberal Faculty (Especially Gene Nichol)

North Carolina LogoFollowing 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:

Legal Education | Permalink


Idle Question: Why should state legislators continue to fund a law school that conducts leftwing lawfare against them and is philosophically opposed to almost all legislation said legislators propose?

Posted by: MarkJ | Jun 11, 2017 8:20:34 AM

Even dogs learn it's not wise to bite the hand that feeds you.

Posted by: TBlakely | Jun 11, 2017 8:28:34 AM

Sometimes things that are failing, fail.

Posted by: Al | Jun 11, 2017 8:45:27 AM

If I may present the numbers a little differently (assuming the article is correct).
The budget reduction is $4M, a 30% reduction from ONE source of the funds to the law school.
Overall it is about a 13% reduction to the law school ($4M / $31M total budget). 13% is not insignificant, but could be managed by laying off non-essential staff personnel and reducing non-essential programs.

What would be useful to know is what was the budget (inflation adjusted) 17 years ago?
The number of students now and 17 years ago?
And the amount spend on administration now and 17 years ago?

Posted by: JWJ | Jun 11, 2017 9:10:25 AM

Payback is a bitch.

Posted by: wjr | Jun 11, 2017 9:31:26 AM

Only a 13% budget cut after a 42% drop in rankings? Well, I suppose. But a lower quality law school shouldn't cost as much, right?

Posted by: Arnold Williams | Jun 11, 2017 9:33:26 AM

Question: What's the difference between the Republicans in North Carolina and every totalitarian regime on the planet that has attempted to suppress criticism and turn universities into compliant organs of state propaganda?

Answer: Shut the f--k up or I'll cut your funding.

Posted by: Totalitarian | Jun 11, 2017 10:48:32 AM

I really believe it's past time for Conservatives to start withholding a lot of money from the higher education community. They feel it's just fine to trash the Koch Brothers and Conservative thought and ideals, yet they still take the money. Let them get all their money from Soros and Tom Steyer and see how much they get. Liberals aren't really good a giving out money without something in return, let's see how that works for them for a few years.

Posted by: bflat879 | Jun 11, 2017 10:57:24 AM

When conservatives give money to an academic institution, it's in return for a great deal of control. They are always getting something in return. In fact, they specifically counsel rich conservative donors on how to avoid the liberal drift that took place at the Ford foundation.

Perhaps you've heard of Antonin Scalia School of Law, The Mercatus Center, the Searle Center, or Olin Centers. Not that the Gates Foundation is really any different.

Posted by: Quid Pro Quo | Jun 11, 2017 12:11:45 PM

The North Carolina legislature seems determined to move the state from 47th in the nation in education to 50th.

Since the Republicans can afford to send their kids to out of state private schools, no big deal.

Posted by: NC education ranking | Jun 11, 2017 12:18:00 PM

A few notes:

1) The UNC Center for Civil Rights was operated with private funds, making these cuts all the more disingenuous.

2) Contrary to some commenters' hushed mention of Soros and Gates as if they controlled higher education, higher ed policy (one might argue most policy) in North Carolina is influenced by the Pope family and its numerous foundations (see also: seed money and innumerable op-eds in favor of HB2 and the recently-tossed gerrymandering).

3) Let's not forget that these are the same NC Congressional Republicans who tried to strip the governorship of power last fall after a Democrat won, leading the Electoral Integrity Project to label it a "failed democracy" in the vein of Cuba or Iran.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jun 11, 2017 5:30:41 PM

It is wholly inappropriate for state legislators to restrict funding because of political disagreement with university faculty. Support for state schools should be evaluated on its merits.

That said, as a practical matter, is there any doubt that it would be easier to defend state funding if there were more ideological diversity in the academy? If, for every Gene Nichol (or even every five Gene Nichols), there were someone more sympathetic to the right side of the political spectrum? I suggested as much here:

Posted by: Jonathan Adler | Jun 11, 2017 6:36:56 PM

Fun fact, Democrats have virtually controlled NC for 95% of the last 100 years.. Kind of messes with the garbage you are peddling..
The North Carolina legislature seems determined to move the state from 47th in the nation in education to 50th.

Since the Republicans can afford to send their kids to out of state private schools, no big deal.

Posted by: NC education ranking | Jun 11, 2017 12:18:00 PM

Posted by: Mike | Jun 12, 2017 4:25:14 AM

Why not shutter the school completely? There's wretched over-production of JD degrees in this country and North Carolina could do its part. The whiff of grapeshot to the rest of the state's faculty might be salutary as well.

Posted by: Art Deco | Jun 12, 2017 6:13:31 AM

State politics: Another reason for law alumni to take control of their alma mater! If law alumni insisted on staffing and running their own alma mater like they used to do decades ago (along with generously contributing to its funding), other benefits would include: (1) a curriculm focused on the needs of the local bar rather than on esoterica and what's trendy nationally, (2) a professoriate based on local practitioners and judges who have had many years of experience in practice rather than relying on the HYS alumni with little to no practice experience, and (3) a smaller class size tailored to local needs, composed of local students who will most likely stay local, rather than the "stuff them in to the rafters for the loan revenue" approach of many schools these days.

Posted by: Old Ruster | Jun 12, 2017 6:57:34 AM

@ Jonathan Adler

I think it would be easier to support ideological diversity in the academy if so many Republican leaders didn't act like science and education were the enemy. Between Global Warming Denial, Tobacco defense, Asbestos obstructionism, demonization of teachers and higher education, pushing charter schools when studies show no evidence that they improve outcomes, and pretty much hamstringing the EPA, NIH, NIMH, FDA, NEA, and PBS every chance they get, pushing modern-day creationism ("intelligent design"), and defunding education in favor of prison spending and tax cuts, and repurposing the military's R&D budget into a slush fund for weapons sales and promotion, it's difficult not to think of Republicans as hostile to the academic enterprise.

Posted by: Ideological diversity | Jun 12, 2017 7:32:59 AM

Not to mention cutting funding for the Census Bureau, prohibiting NSF funding for political science because they just don't like what the data shows, and claiming against all evidence that tax cuts always pay for themselves with preternatural increases in economic growth.

Posted by: Ideological diversity | Jun 12, 2017 7:38:30 AM

How ideologically diverse are Hillsdale College, Liberty University, and George Mason's economics department?

Do you suppose they got that way by hiring and promoting solely on the merits, without regard to ideology?

Whose to say that Conservatives won't be every bit as provincial and sharp elbowed if they take over a legitimate university? The way they conduct themselves in government--threatening shut downs if they don't get their way--does not bode well.

The latest UNC episode is just good cop bad cop. The "good cops" Adler and Volokh demand ideological diversity, while the "bad cop" Art Pope backed Republican legislature threatens to beat academic institutions to a bloody pulp if they don't comply.

Posted by: Conservatives demand affirmative action | Jun 12, 2017 7:46:21 AM

Republicans have controlled North Carolina since 2011.

Fair point that the state wasn't a mecca of prosperity and educational achievement before that, but not everyone can be Massachusetts or Connecticut.

Posted by: NC politics | Jun 12, 2017 7:56:37 AM