by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
That’s the headline of an article in which the News and Observer chastises the NC Senate’s threat to cut funding to UNC Law School:
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 legislators did the next best thing; they went after the UNC law school budget.
In 2015, the Senate cut $3 million from the 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.
It is hard to know whether the Senate seriously wants to slash the law school’s budget or is just sending a message – the equivalent of hitting it over the head with a two-by-four.
Certainly, diversity should be a consideration in faculty hires – whether racial, gender or ideological. The law school faculty should include not only our best legal minds, but some effort should be made to make sure it reflects the state, including conservative scholars.
But slashing the budget proposal by 30 percent seems a ham-handed approach at best. …
None of this is about finance. The state is relatively flush this year, and sums in question are modest.
This is about settling political scores, or sending messages, or perhaps even making sure the UNC law school faculty adheres to the legislature’s version of political correctness.