Civitas Review

UNC Biz Prof. Critiques Gene Nichol

1
Apr
18

Michael Jacobs, CEO of Jacobs Capital and professor of the Practice of Finance at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Graduate School of Business, wrote this interesting piece in the N&O criticizing Gene Nichol's approach to addressing poverty. Here are some samples from the article:

If the goal of the poverty center is, in fact, to improve the condition of low-income residents of our state, an approach focused on generating more light than heat no doubt would better serve the poor.

Many on the left define “poverty issues” too narrowly. For example, it seems that the expense of heating a poor person’s home would be a poverty issue. But where is the study from a left-leaning think tank that evaluates the effect of the shale gas revolution on the cost of heating homes of low-income residents? In fact, every policy that affects our subsistence level is a poverty issue.

The deterioration of the family unit affects poor people profoundly. It would be invaluable to have a left-leaning poverty think tank tackle the question of how jobs and welfare affect the family unit respectively. Most people agree that jobs that provide a living wage are the most sustainable way to lift someone from poverty. Perhaps a poverty think tank could rate all policies, liberal and conservative, on the effect they have on job creation.

Jacobs is largely spot on with his critique of Nichol. If Nichol truly cared about improving the quality of life and opportunity for North Carolina's poorest, he should first learn basic economics and gain an understanding of what makes an economy grow. Instead of constantly urging for an expansion of the welfare state to empower the political class and create destructive poverty traps, perhaps Nichol would gain a better understanding about the crucial role of capital accumulation – fueled by savings – in economic growth.

Sadly, though, Nichol's partisan blinders keep him obsessed with politics rather than allowing him to demonstrate genuine concern for the poor.

UNC Must Walk the Walk on Openness

1
Apr
17

We recently queried the University of North Carolina about public comments made by the UNC Law Schools' dean, Jack Boger. He was  quoted as saying: “The open records act permits citizens and institutions to request such records without clarifying what their motives are. I think some within the university — I’m probably one of them – think there ought to be some sort of statutory restraint placed on that capacity. You could bring a university to its knees by simply asking every one of its 1,200 faculty members to ‘give me your last six weeks of emails,’ and have it all sorted through.”

We asked university officials if they had any comment or statement to make on this, and whether the quote represents the university’s policy towards open records – or at least influence how the university responds to such requests.

The gist of the response  from Joel Curran, Vice Chancellor for Communications and Public Affairs, UNC-CH, was:

The University is fully committed to a policy of openness, honesty and cooperation when it comes to disclosing public records under the North Carolina Public Records Act and applicable federal laws covering public records.

We currently have the equivalent of nine full-time employees, at an annual cost of about $600,000, dedicated to carrying out our public records responsibilities.  Many other members of our campus community are periodically involved in this effort to comply with the law.  Based on our research, the investment in our public records response far exceeds that currently required of our sister UNC campuses.

Members of the campus community have every right to express their personal opinions. Those personal opinions do not reflect a University position or policy.

I can't say this really comes to grip with the issue. Note first the bureaucratic confusion of input with output. It doesn't matter how many employees are assigned to records requests, or how much they spend; what matters is how eager they are to furnish records.  Indeed — just to speak hypothetically — if they see their task as delaying and minimizing response to records requests, the more of them on the job, the more responses will be delayed and minimized.

The University may be "fully committed" to openness. But "the university" is an abstract creation. What really counts is the intent of the people it employs. And what is Jack Boger's intent? He sounds as if he is very dubious about providing public records to the public.

That matters especially because he is the dean of the law school. He's the boss. And employees take their cues from the boss.

And, of course, bureaucrats tend to dislike openness anyway.

So how open is the UNC Law School? Our experience over the last couple of years is that the school is very reluctant to let the public see what it is doing.

It so happens we agree the Law School shouldn't have to employ nine staffers and spend $600,000 to provide open records. All university records should be posted on the Internet for any of the real bosses — the people of North Carolina — to view at any time.

Until that happens, the university's openness will have to be judged not by words and budget items, but by results.

The 'Good Motives Defense' Offered by UNC Law Chief

2
Apr
16

Jack Boger

Jack Boger

In the latest development in Civitas' quest to pry public records out of the University of North Carolina, Dean Jack Boger of the UNC Law School was recently quoted as saying:

“The open records act permits citizens and institutions to request such records without clarifying what their motives are,” says Boger. “I think some within the university — I’m probably one of them – think there ought to be some sort of statutory restraint placed on that capacity. You could bring a university to its knees by simply asking every one of its 1,200 faculty members to ‘give me your last six weeks of emails,’ and have it all sorted through.”

Boger's latest comments appeared in a newspaper story about professor Gene Nichol, head of the Poverty Center at the UNC Law School, and the Civitas Institute's fight to see some of the emails Nichol produced while serving as a public employee at the offices of a public institution.

It's astonishing that the dean of a law school thinks that "motives" should restrain the rights of the people to know what their employees are doing. But of course motives can excuse everything, or nothing.

How could any statute define "good motives" for a records request? Who would decide which motives were good enough? The agency stonewalling the records request?

Moreover, liberals always want their good motives and fine intentions to excuse any blunders, crimes or catastrophes their policies inflict on innocent people.

That's why state law says that no one needs a reason for seeking or getting public records. We are the public. Public institutions — from the local dog catcher to the University of North Carolina — report to us. We are their bosses. If your boss wants to see what you've been doing in your job, don't you think he has a right to know? Well, that's also our right to know. People at UNC work for us; they report to us; and if they don't want to tell us what they are doing or show us documents they produce on their jobs, they need to seek employment with a private employer.

Most important, Dean Borger doesn't grasp what open records laws are all about. “We don’t live in a society in which people can decide they don’t like what a professor says or believes in a university, and simply take them out of it,” he says in that article. “That’s why we have tenure. That’s why we have very strong protection for academic freedom.”

The good dean is of course dodging the point. A records request is not a termination notice. It is a request for a public employee to produce documents he or she has produced during the course of work on the public's behalf.

Our requests could be meant to laud the Poverty Center's work. After all, if it has found a way to end poverty, all of us would like to hear it.

So, why is Dean Borger so worried about records requests? He raises the specter of anxious citizens bringing UNC to its knees with a flurry of records requests. Well, it would also be a problem if alien invaders landed in Chapel Hill, but that hasn't happened yet either.

Could he be worried about what would happen if too much was known about how the UNC Law School uses the public's money and resources? And does the dean's attitude color the school's response to the clear letter of the open records law?

Art Pope Discusses Benefits of Tax Reform

Apr
16

State budget director Art Pope (whose family foundation is Civitas' primary benefactor) penned an article in the N&O discussing the benefits of last year's tax reform legislation. The article highlights how the tax reform enables North Carolinians to keep more of their hard-earned money. Some highlights:

Tax reform began in 2011, when the General Assembly reduced the state sales tax rate by 17 percent, from a state rate of 5.75 percent to 4.75 percent. Tax reform continued in 2013, when McCrory and the legislature simplified the personal income tax – taking rates ranging from 6 percent to 7.75 percent to a single flat rate of 5.8 percent. They also passed a higher standard deduction starting in 2014 and a flat personal income tax rate of 5.75 percent in 2015.

As a result of lower personal income tax rates, a higher standard deduction and more accurate payroll withholding tables, most employees will see on average a 20 percent reduction in state taxes withheld from their paychecks. A large sample of over 75,000 state employees in all income ranges saw the average state tax withheld drop from 5.6 percent in 2013 to 4.5 percent in February and January. This is the equivalent to a 1.1 percent more in take-home pay.

….

Look at your own paycheck. You’ll discover that the state is withholding fewer taxes, so your take home pay is higher. More importantly, there are tens of thousands of more North Carolinians earning paychecks today than there were in January 2013 when McCrory and his administration took office.

Teacher Compensation Report: A Start

Apr
16

On Monday the Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force issued its final report.  Critics  have chided the Committee  for stopping short of endorsing specific pay increases for teachers, but that was not the goal of the Committee.   Those decisions can and should only be made when North Carolina knows what its budget will look like and what money it will have to spend.  Getting teacher pay right  is a complex issue ( For more see Teacher Pay: A Problem Money Can't Fix) and involves more than just throwing money at a problem. The Task Force raised a lot of important issues and traced the outlines of the challenges North Carolina faces. It's a good first step in a long process.