The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

North Carolina scholars protest move against activist professor

Hundreds of  scholars from 24 colleges and universities have sent a letter to North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) and State Budget Director Art Pope asking them to repudiate what the academics claim is an effort by a Pope-funded organization to retaliate against a professor who was critical of the McCrory administration.

NC Policy Watch, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center, reported that Gene Nichol, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s law school and director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at that institution, had been targeted by a private foundation funded almost entirely by Pope.

Nichol (who is on the board of the Justice Center), is a leading advocate for the poor and has been highly critical of the McCrory administration, as well as legislators from both political parties.

Nichol was president of William & Mary College in Virginia from 2005-2008 (a term marked by controversy, including one over his decision to remove a cross from the altar of the chapel in the Wren Building). He was also dean of the law school at UNC-Chapel Hill and founded the Byron White Center of Constitutional Law at the University of Colorado and the Center for Civil Rights at UNC.

The foundation, called the Pope-Civitas Institute, submitted a public information request for six weeks of Nichol’s personal e-mail correspondence, phone and text records and entries on his calendar just after the News & Observer newspaper published a column by Nichol that blasted North Carolina’s new election law, which set new voter ID requirements, and called the governor  “a 21st century successor to Maddox, Wallace and Faubus,” referring to the former governors of Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas, all segregationists.

NC Policy Watch said that the institute did not say why it had requested the personal documents from Nichol, but the letter of protest makes clear what hundreds of scholars believe.

Here’s the letter:

The scholars who signed come from the following schools:

Appalachian State University
Bennett College
Duke University
East Carolina University
Elizabeth City State University
Elon University
Guilford College
Lenoir–‐Rhyne University
Mars Hill University
Meredith College
North Carolina Central University
North Carolina State University
Sandhills Community College
Union Presbyterian Seminary
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
University of North Carolina at Pembroke
University of North Carolina at Wilmington
University of South Carolina
Wake Forest University
Warren Wilson College
Western Carolina University