Exile on Jones street: UNC’s total non-surprise

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kirk rossby Kirk Ross

Word is coming down this week on the latest ideological purge at the University of North Carolina.

Officially, a legislature-mandated “review” of the hundreds of centers and institutes, it very quickly became obvious that the move was a set up to weed out support for university entities whose mission did not fit into the new way of thinking ’round Raleigh.

Much like the recent ousting of system President Tom Ross, the coming purge of lefties and climate scientists was probably in the cards for a long while.

And while there’s going to be a lot of fuss, it’s accurate to say that the board of governors is just doing what new boards do. In this case, while it’s been slower arriving, the board is starting to be much more reflective of the lurch to the right that’s affected the rest of the state’s superstructure.

In that context it’s a lot easier to understand the termination of organizations supporting civil rights, immigrant communities and anti-poverty efforts.

Take the purging of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, led by former UNC law school dean and anti-poverty firebrand Gene Nichol. He and the center are definitely on the shortlist for purging. And you know, given how out of step he is with the board of governors, it makes a heck of a lot of sense.

Perhaps most of us watching this are mistaken, but it seems that to many on the UNC board and their peers in the job-creating class, the people in poverty that Nichol is so passionate about championing are all but invisible.

It’s a vast difference from the era when some of the people running had grown up poor and never forgot what a difference their education made for them and could make for others.

Now, too often when those in poverty are mentioned by people in power, it’s to deride and condemn them for laziness and lack of initiative, for being takers.

And the disconnect between the people able to affect change at the university or anywhere in state government and the realities of poverty in our state has grown ever wider. They can’t seem to see the people toiling away in jobs that pays them so little compared to the rising cost of housing, utilities and medicine that the only thing they can do as life goes on is downsize, dream less and aim lower.

They appear to realize the weight that higher and higher debt from ever-rising tuition and fees has on young graduates’ ability to invent, explore and create.

And they sure don’t understand that to most of the furniture and textile workers who busted their backs on the job for decades only to be cast aside, all the talk about retooling and retraining workers doesn’t mean a damn thing.

Yeah, there was a time when at least some of the people serving on the powerful boards and commissions in North Carolina had come from desperate places and brought to the job a sense of urgency to do something.

That was then. Now that thinking is upside down and this thinly veiled attempt to silence Nichol and others sends a message that the new official policy is to ignore poverty, growing income inequality and other inconvenient truths.

But beyond contempt for truth-tellers, what kind of a message is the board sending? We can’t just take the same facts and spin them into gold. Are we supposed to revel in the fact that less than 20 percent of our fellow citizens are living below the poverty line? Or rejoice over the fact that three out of four children do not experience food insecurity?

I hate to sound like a nerd, but studies show that ignoring things won’t make them go away.