Rob Schofield of NC PolicyWatch wrote this alarming editorial about a disgraceful effort to silence a critic of Governor McCrory.

North Carolina was once the most progressive state in the South, but in the short time that Governor McCrory has been in office, abetted by a reactionary legislature, North Carolina has adopted some of the most anti-education, anti-social, regressive policies in the nation.

Governor McCrory’s state budget director is Art Pope, one of the richest men in the state, who has his own private foundation, called the Pope-Civitas Institute. Art Pope has a libertarian, anti-government, anti-public sector agenda, which he has helped to implement.

The Pope-Civitas Institute has begun a campaign of intimidation directed at Professor Gene Nichol of the University of North Carolina Law Center.

Schofield writes:

Nichol, of course, is, among many other things, the Director of the UNC Law School’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity and a longtime fiery critic of politicians of both parties, who ignore, abuse or take advantage of the underdogs of society. Together with Rev. William Barber of the state NAACP, Nichol led the 2012 Truth and Hope Tour of Poverty in North Carolina. He’s also been an active participant in Moral Mondays and HK on J movements, a regular opinion page contributor to Raleigh’s News & Observer and a board member of multiple progressive nonprofits – including NC Policy Watch’s parent organization, the North Carolina Justice Center.

The Pope-Civitas Institute recently “filed a public records request to obtain six weeks’ worth of Nichol’s personal email correspondence, phone logs, text messages, and calendar entries. The group won’t say what it thinks it might find with such an absurd fishing expedition, but there can be no doubt as to the actual, ultimate objective…”

In response to this outrageous attempt to intimidate Professor Nichol, hundreds of college and university scholars from 24 North Carolina institutions sent a letter of protest to Governor McCrory and State Budget Director Pope.

Here’s the letter:

To Governor McCrory and State Budget Director Art Pope,

As scholars from institutions of higher education throughout North Carolina and citizens committed to the constitutional right of free speech, we call on you to condemn the Civitas Institute’s demand for six weeks’ worth of personal email correspondence, phone logs, text messages, and calendar entries from Gene Nichol, Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the UNC School of Law.

This request is clearly in retribution for Professor Nichol’s public commentary critical of your administration. We write to both of you because it is public knowledge that, in the words of the Institute for Southern Studies, “Civitas gets over 90 percent of its funding from the Pope family foundation — so much so that the IRS classifies it as a ‘private foundation,’ a designation reserved for nonprofits that depend on a single benefactor.” Thus, citizens may reasonably infer that a sitting administration is using a private tax-exempt nonprofit organization funded by one of its leading officials to retaliate for criticism of its policies and intimidate future dissent. To our knowledge this action is unprecedented in our state’s political history.

Such an attempt at punishing speech ill befits an organization that purports in its mission statement to advance “liberty” and to “empower citizens to become better civic leaders.” Imagine if a nonprofit institution affiliated with an administration of the other party demanded the email of a conservative faculty critic. The Civitas Institute would be outraged; so would we.

Mr. Pope’s foundations are well aware that Professor Nichol is one of many North Carolina scholars who have begun publicly expressing concern about the direction of state policy since your administration took office. We believe the purpose of this action is not simply to retaliate against Professor Nichol but also to discourage future dissent from faculty in higher education. Such abuse of power to suppress critics should be condemned by all people of good will.

Scholars are citizens. Like all Americans, we have the right of free speech, freedom of assembly, and indeed the positive obligation to participate in public life “to form a more perfect Union.” Sometimes, our research expertise also bears directly on policy matters. To support smart policy and draw attention to misconceived or destructive policy is part of our responsibility as trained researchers and writers in a democratic nation.

We, the undersigned, from 61 departments and 24 institutions of higher education, call you to speak out publicly on this matter and to meet with a small delegation of faculty concerned about the future of free speech for employees of our public institutions.

Sincerely,

To see the names of the signatories and their institutions, open the link.