Starving the Beast Prompts Choleric Call to Fatten a Sacred Cow

Listening to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill law professor Gene Nichol’s radical riff ripping trustees and the UNC system’s Board of Governors as cowards, and Republican lawmakers as oppressive racists, one might get the feeling he is on a career suicide mission.

But in an auditorium half filled with fawning university professor compatriots and a sprinkling of idealistic students cheering his mantra that sinister, rich white guys are deliberately pricing poor people and minorities out of public higher education, he was in a particularly safe space on the UNC Greensboro campus on January 30.

“I’m a tenured law professor. Nothing requires less courage than being a tenured law professor,” Nichol said, and smiled in a flash of self-deprecation that amused the audience. “They can’t do anything to me. I know they can’t. They’ve tried a half a dozen times in various different ways.”

Nichol’s analysis of the state of public higher education could be mistaken for paranoia. Aside from his obeisance to identity politics, he claims a war is raging: legislators and campus administrators who don’t emote the cherished academic values that professors do are cruelly and intentionally deconstructing the time-honored tradition of public higher education by defunding it.

“The truth is right now we have a legislature, and we have a Board of Governors that rejects that historic mission of the University of North Carolina,” Nichol said. “They have said [they] don’t care if people are priced out. … And if those people who can’t pay it are poor, and they’re black, and they’re Latino, all the better, because they’re not part of our operation in the first place.”

Nichol’s tirade was a matching—if wildly incorrect—assessment of higher education spending made in a movie that was shown before his remarks. Starving the Beast is a dark and brooding documentary that paints public higher education as being in a death struggle with diabolical, shadowy right-wing figures who want to slash funding.

In North Carolina, however, more than $3.8 billion was allocated to the UNC system and community colleges combined in 2016—a 4.8 percent increase over the previous year, and a 1.6 percent increase over a five-year period, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Higher education appropriations for the UNC system alone total roughly $2.8 billion and account for 13 percent of the overall state budget. Also, a tuition freeze was recently put in place, and student fee increases were capped at 3 percent.

North Carolina is ranked fourth in the nation in various studies in terms of state higher education funding, and fifth in the lowest share of total costs for individuals or families.

And despite Nichol’s claim that there is a conscious effort to financially disenfranchise minority students, the state, among other things, has passed the “N.C. Promise” tuition plan to cut tuition costs by $500 per semester beginning in fall 2018 for in-state, undergraduate students at UNC Pembroke and Elizabeth City State Universitytwo historically minority institutions—as well as Western Carolina University.

Across the country, higher education is accessible to more students than ever, regardless of their socioeconomic status or race. Over the years, as access has expanded, so has higher education funding. Writing for the Atlantic, Paul Campos found that overall state spending increased by an inflation-adjusted 48 percent over the past 35 years, and overall government spending per student is “greater than ever before.”

Nevertheless, Starving the Beast plays off the contention that there is a battle to disrupt and reform America’s public universities through budget cuts and a “very toxic ideology” of consumerism and the use of cost-cutting technology.

The movie contends the traditional value system of professors’ intellectual contributions is being replaced by how much money a course or project generates. The movie is critical of a push by rich donors to establish corporate top-down management to make universities function more like a business, a model that doesn’t work in a university setting that thrives on collaboration and buy-in.

Naturally, the movie looks favorably upon increased spending for higher education, and is critical of officials such as former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who signed a pledge not to raise taxes that could help to restore funding to Louisiana State University.

The movie’s villains include Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, billionaires such as the Koch brothers and the Walton family, and, closer to home, entrepreneur Art Pope, the John Locke Foundation, Civitas Institute, and Americans for Prosperity North Carolina.

With background string and piano music alternating between foreboding and forlornness, the documentary focuses on recent controversies at the University of Texas, University of Wisconsin Madison, and UNC Chapel Hill.

During his remarks after the film showing, to great laughter from the audience, Nichol jabbed the governors of the three states in which the profiled universities are located.

He said it would be ludicrous to entrust reform of public higher education to “Scott Walker, who had never been to college. And [former governors] Rick Perry and Pat McCrory may have been to college, but show no signs that it had any impact on them.”

Nichol also used his platform to complain, yet again, about the Board of Governors closing down his UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity in 2015. In his telling, Nichol was innocently doing the Lord’s work in publishing incendiary columns about his poverty research in the state’s two largest newspapers, and was victimized by angry elected officials who didn’t like the heat.

The Board of Governors said they shut down the center because it had shown no demonstrable efforts to seriously address the issues it had been tasked to help solve.

Critics condemned Nichol for using the center—long suspected of being created solely to help former U.S. senator John Edwards launch a presidential campaign—much like an activist front organization to promote his political agenda. (In a controversial move following the Poverty Center’s closure, Nichol opened the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund at Chapel Hill’s law school; except for its title, the new organization is identical to the Poverty Center.)

Nichol weighs in during the UNC segment in Starving the Beast, which purports former UNC system president Tom Ross was forced out because he wasn’t a “yes man” for budget cuts.

Also featured are an interview with Jay Schalin and video clip of Jane Shaw of the then-John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy; they weigh in on the Poverty Center controversy and Ross’s departure. (The Pope Center is now the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal; Schalin is the Center’s Director of Policy Analysis, and Shaw is the former Pope Center president.) Schalin’s comments did not reflect the full context of his hourlong interview, and parts of the edited version were used to cast some of his remarks in an uncomplimentary fashion.

At any rate, Nichol styling himself as the champion of the poor against the wealthy Huns might strike some as a bit of a stretch. He is paid $211,400 for minimal work at UNC and, according to some reports, has homes valued at over $1.5 million. But he doesn’t let that stop him from throwing thunderbolts.

“We are literally in a war about whether we’re going to invest in our people’s lives, whether we’re going to assure access and opportunity for those people who have the most difficult challenges of it, or whether we’re going to have government of the wealthy, the white, the straight, the Christian, the male,” Nichol told the UNCG crowd.

He accused university administrators and trustees of “going along to get along, and cowing, cowering before every pressure. That’s what we’ve got. Chapel Hill defines that.”

The operative response is “mum’s the word” if the General Assembly tells them “we’re going to try to embarrass and degrade your gay and lesbian students, or we’re going to pass H.B. 2 and require that you treat your transgender students with derision.”

While his critics likely would find his remarks mostly inflammatory, Nichol also waxed ominous.

As campuses are inflamed by intolerance of any but far-left views, attacks on free speech, and violent riots to shut down conservative speakers, as occurred last Wednesday at UC Berkeley, Nichol sees university students as impressionable pawns to be conscripted into his social justice agenda for the university and larger worlds.

“Clearly what’s called for is massive engagement,” he said. “The state of North Carolina is involved in a massive fight for its own decency. It’s all hands on deck.”

Boards of governors and trustees get “very nervous with student activism,” Nichol said. “I hope it will be massively deployed.” But he doesn’t appreciate the UNC Board of Governors having a precautionary campus police presence at its meetings due to past disruptions and physical scuffles.

“[Former UNC system presidents] Bill Friday and Frank Porter Graham would weep to see such an event,” Nichol said. “We’ve got a Board of Governors who revels in it. They think it’s an exercise in their power of the sword.”

“Our future lies with public higher education,” Nichol said, and “this film raises really complex issues.” He may very well be right on the first point, and certainly correct on the latter. But what is not needed in the search for solutions to complex public policy issues, reasonable people might agree, are scorched earth character attacks and simplistic appeals to a one-dimensional worldview.

  • DrOfnothing

    Considering the way the other Pope-funded edifice (Civitas) targeted Nichols for termination, and failed spectacularly in the effort, it’s hardly surprising that the JMC publishes this smear piece. But this attack is just as impotent, hysterical, and ineffective as the previous ones have been.

    It is absolutely pointless to go in the multitude of ways this article is pure nonsense most of the way through and utter hypocrisy when it isn’t (e.g. attacking Nichols for character attacks . . . when this entire piece is a character attack on Nichols). I’ll just point out the most glaring one. The author completely ignores the second half of the sentence in the study that he himself cites as his main evidence that Nichols is wrong about the legislature pricing poorer folks out of higher ed in NC.

    Specifically, Way writes, “North Carolina is ranked fourth in the nation in various studies in terms of state higher education funding.” He cites a study printed on the rather questionable site Wall St. 24/7.

    Keep in mind this is a site that links from this article to “The Drunkest (and Driest) Cities in America.” Not exactly a shining beacon of online journalism.

    But, regardless of the site’s legitimacy, in the SAME SENTENCE that gives NC such a high ranking, the authors also write that “partially due to funding cuts, students at a public institution in North Carolina pay 52.0% more for tuition than they did five years ago.”

    That’s worth repeating–52% more than five years ago . . . for the same education. Actually, it’s 52% more tuition for a _worse_ education, since there have been faculty cuts and the unfavorable political and funding climate of the UNC system has driven out many top-flight profs in the interim.

    Before the author rakes any further muck about Nichols, or makes more inaccurate claims about the affordability of college education in NC, he might want to work a bit on his math skills . . . and his journalistic integrity.

  • cdr

    $3.8 billion dollars….wow… many students graduate and become gainfully employed in North Carolina. Does anyone ever care about that?

    • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

      Well, and with all the money involved in the education-government complex it does not matter. There has been a rising bubble in too many people getting degrees and heading out into the real world where all they can get is a job in retail. Then they cannot repay the massive loans that fund Nichol’s fat rear end while he beaches himself at Emerald Isle. The poor stay poor while the guys like Geno keep getting theirs.

  • Cbomb

    Starving the beast? Does that mean he sold his million dollar home in Orange County and beach house on Emerald Isle?

  • BitterEXdemocrackkk

    Gene Nichol and his MD wife at the UNC hospital pull down about $600-700,000 per year off the NC taxpayers…they are nasty ‘crackkks.

    • DrOfnothing

      If if this was true (which it isn’t), that’s about 1/100th what the tax breaks that Pope’s businesses receive cost the NC taxpayers. Really the pot calling the kettle black there.

      • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

        So, can you provide a link where the Pope businesses are getting about $65,000,000 in deductions for NC taxes? And do not count depreciation on the buildings the business owns, that is not a “tax break” but a business expense.

        • DrOfnothing

          I was being facetious, of course. But I am happy to provide information on his various tax shelters . . . as soon as you provide the evidence demonstrating that Nichols and his wife are somehow receiving $700,000 directly out of the public coffers. Considering Nichol’s NCPRF is now donation-funded and the UNC Hospital system gets its funding from a vast array of sources, including a significant amount from the federal government, I don’t think you will be able to (and even their combined salaries are nowhere near that amount in any case).

          • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

            Here you are,
            If the link does not auto pull up their last names you would want to search on Nichol, and look at Gene and I belive it is Kimberly. They are pulling in $460k on salary alone. And your aforementioned “poverty” center makes up the rest. And all this is processed through a government entity so it counts as on our backs for sure.


            Be sure to provide a full $65 million. I am a CPA and will check the numbers.

          • DrOfnothing

            Yes, 460k, which is, at least by my math, is significantly less than 600-700k asserted by the OP. You’re a CPA, so I think you understand the difference between the two.

            You also failed to address the points I raised about how this is largely _not_ coming from NC taxpayers.

            Clearly, I was exaggerating about Pope’s tax avoidance, as was the OP vastly overestimating both the salary of the Nichols family _and_ the amount of it that is publicly funded.

            I’m not sure what a “nasty ‘crakkks” is, but perhaps it’s an accounting term.

          • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

            You failed to address that even if the funds supposedly did not come from taxpayers, they were administrated by UNC personnel, and by government accounting rules would be the property of the UNC system even if specifically directed. The fact that it is a slush fund for Geano’s beach house and such.

            Where is the documentation of some kind of freeloading deduction you reference? Or are you talking about legal dedcutions? I am sure you take all “tax breaks” due you under the law right? Or do you just write in the total income you have and forego any and all deductions that appear on your tax form and pay taxes on that amount? But if you do happen to take these deductions, then please explain how legal deductions are bad for Pope, and good for you. I have never understood this concept so I would like to know.

            Also, if you can comment on the fact that the consumer is actually paying Pope’s taxes in in increased prices at his stores would be another interesting item for you to reconcile (you do know he provides a lot of affordable goods for the lower income people at his stores right?). you see, no business actually pays taxes…they just collect taxes from us and then pay them over to the government whether it is sales taxes…or income taxes that are embedded in the profit margin of the company.

            I have never heard of “nasty crakkks” either….but my guess is it only applies to those of the progressive movement. Or it could be that Geano is a true heir to the demorat party line and channels the kkk. That would make sense to me.

          • DrOfnothing

            “The fact that it is a slush fund for Geano’s beach house and such.”

            “I have never heard of “nasty crakkks” either….but my guess is it only applies to those of the progressive movement. Or it could be that Geano is a true heir to the demorat party line and channels the kkk. That would make sense to me.”

            This has ceased to be a rational discussion, goodbye.

          • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

            Agreed, you have skirted reality the whole time. Good luck trolling others.

          • DrOfnothing

            Just to be clear on this:

            You have

            1.) the chief political adviser to the president who openly advocates populist, ethnic nationalism and caters to the racist alt-right.
            2.) an NC GOP legislature that has gerrymandered the black vote so egregiously that it was struck down by the supreme court as unconstitutional.
            3.) a Republican presidents who was OPENLY ENDORSED by the ACTUAL KKK and is now widely praised by the white-supremacy movement as supporting their goals and values


            . . . and yet you assert that the Democrats are channelling the KKK?

            For your clients’ sake, I hope your receipt-counting is more accurate than your political analysis.

          • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

            Well, thought you were bowing out….guess you cannot get a progressive to shut up.
            1. Nothing wrong with populism and nationalism. Although you use the usual progressive dog whistle/straw man of “racism”. That does not really work any more you know….people know the progressive party is the true source of racism.
            2. Racial gerrymandering has happened in NC for as long as I have been alive. This is not a new thing and the demokkkrat party invented it. At least these days we have a non-gerrymandered map (assuming you are willing to be logical and actually look at the maps compared to say the late 90’s as an example) Again…..another dog whistle/straw man that is only used when your favored people are not doing the district lines.
            3. Where is it that the presidents accepted any endorsement by the KKK? Just because some fake news outlet interviewed Jethro the KKK dude out in the stix does not make this a true argument…..wait! Yet another progressive dog whistle/straw man.

            You really do live up to your name of “Nothing” that is for sure. Luckily you do not have the hearing of a dog (even if you feel that is your gender) or you would be deaf with all the whistling you are doing!

          • DrOfnothing

            Your “fake news outlet” is one of the four primary newspapers in Britain.

            Your links between progressivism and racism are utter nonsense.

            Yes, gerrymandering is a “thing” in NC, but only the GOPs has been deemed unconstitutional. And the GOP does it specifically to disenfranchise black voters.

            Even a dog could sniff out the holes in your arguments, which seem to come more out the back end than the front.

          • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

            Just because the outlet is in the UK does not mean they are not fake….the fact that they are “primary” certainly tips me off that they are.

            My links are perfectly valid, and from many many research efforts….not this Breitbart dog whistle you have. You need to get off your rolodex of whistle words.

            I have yet to see the SCOTUS rule our districts unconstitutional. They are the arbiters of the process. If they were to do so then you can use that argument. Besides if the 90’s districts with the same purpose had been taken to whatever court made the current wacky ruling but with an (R) beside the defendants the same ruling would have been made. Again those had the same purpose…..because they knew blacks voted for demokkkrats.

            I have many sources…..Wikipedia just happens to be one that you would not dog whistle with some new in vogue word like alt-right. I am good with some nationalism….lord knows we need to build up some after 8 years of actively trying to destroy the nation from within.

            No, these dog whistles are only used by the alt-left people who have no real logical argument and just run from one issue to the next spouting the progressive narrative for each cause. You can see this because so many of the whistles contradict each other and rarely have any basis in reality.

            I thought you were leaving this debate because it is not rational….I assume you are admitting your irrationality….but you have failed on the goodbye part.

          • DrOfnothing

            The Independent was named “national newspaper of the year” at the 2004 British Press Awards–it is as genuine and reliable as they come. The KKK has endorsed other candidates, and every single one besides Trump, since the 1970s, has categorically disavowed the group. If you want further evidence of how white supremacist discourse is creeping into the new regime, you should read about Bannon’s ideology, and his admiration for the Italian Fascist Julian Evola.

            Trump’s brand is not true populism, since it is aimed almost exclusively at white Americans–it is exclusionary, discriminatory, and inherently undemocratic. Ethnic nationalism is the same force that tore apart Yugoslavia, and is driving the conflict in Ukraine, Sri Lanka, and a dozen other flashpoints. You can find a good summary of the different forms of nationalism here:

            Here is more information about the Federal court’s ruling on GOP redistricting–

            Please, for your own sake, dig a little deeper into these issues rather than relying merely on name-calling and Wikipedia. I think you might find it interesting and at the very least, you will be able to bring more specific information to bear in these discussions.

            I have no idea why you are so obsessed with whistles.

          • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

            The fake news press is always giving awards to each other. You gotta do better than that.

            The rest of your post is just more dog whistling. You remind me of a hysterical chicken little shouting racisim, sexism, homophobia, zenophobia etc. Your narrative just does not work anymore, and as can be seen people of all races creeds and colors are not believing it any more.

            Like I could care one whit about what Barry Soetero’s whacko court says about our districts. The fact is they have contradicted themselves at least twice in saying you have to take race into account….and then you cannot take race into account. They just want to be the ones to draw the districts in the end in order to get their desired outcome of demokkkrats in power.

            And I do “dig” plenty deep. Just because I used Wikipedia (because any other site that publishes anything closer to the truth is ALWAYS discounted automatically as “alt-right” or some other dog whistle by progressives) as a source does not mean that is the only place I look. I frequent sites that represent each side of the spectrum and I can easily see the facts. Just because you do not like the facts does not mean the sources are not specific but more like avoidance on your part.

          • DrOfnothing

            If you honestly discount the British Press Awards and the Independent as “fake news” and you believe yourself to be more qualified than the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is to assess the constitutionality of electoral redistricting, you are either not digging deeply enough or digging in entirely the wrong place. Only 7 of the 16 currently serving judges are Obama appointees, btw, and the current chief justice is a G.W. Bush re-appointee (originally appointed by Clinton, admittedly). You really have a poor command of the facts in question.

            Here’s the map to demonstrate how egregious this became after 2013 (from Wikipedia, no less), clearly reflected in the radical swing towards Republican districts, which is completely out of whack with state-wide voting patterns.


            Also, it’s spelled “xenophobia.” “Zenophobia” would, presumably, be a fear of the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Zeno of Elea. Coincidentally enough, he is thought to have invented the concept of the dialectic, which is very apropos of this conversation.

            Please refrain from personal insults and, out of courtesy, from lumping me in with the rather broad array of groups about which you clearly have very strong feelings (though little actual knowledge and likely no personal experience). Such actions only undermine your arguments and are inappropriate to our . . . dialectic 🙂

          • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

            Yes, I do so because that is like patting yourself on the back….lets all give each other awards. I do not discount the press in the UK, but the independent is a known liberal quantity and I for one say they are fake news. Maybe you do not…that is your perogative just like if I linked to Fox News you would automatically say fake news. To each his own.

            I thought you were saying the districts were racially gerrymandered…way to pivot there. As long as I have been alive…and I am sure it is even longer in your case …the legislative districts have been drawn this exact way. You can point to some kind of subjective “out of whack” but the same thing was done by the demokkkrats until they lost power. The true fact is this is an issue to them now that they are out of power. There is nothing “egregious” about districts these days…if anything they are LESS gerrymandered than in the past. Heck, here is your sainted British press bringing out the most racist, packed, heinous district ever…oh and the current GOP actually compacted it so that the guy in Burlington was not voting for someone down in Charlotte.


          • DrOfnothing

            The Guardian article is very interesting, thank you for the link. Gerrymandering is most certainly a two-edge sword, and short-term advantage can turn into long-term hindrance quite easily!

            No, I do not think Murdoch’s FOX is “fake news.” They fact-check like other major legitimate news sources. They are incredibly slanted, and that was part of Murdoch’s design from the beginning.

          • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

            as a PS to the comment a few minutes ago…..browser did not display all on the phone.

            Just because you do not want to admit it…the democrat party did start and encourage the KKK. With this internet thing you are never going to hide that fact. Here are just a few resources for you to begin presenting yourself as actually educated.

            And first we will start with the VERY recent demokkkrat Robert Byrd….heck I thought the Republicans were the ones against civil rights…but Byrd filibustered the 1964 act (sarcasm).


            Just for funsies….search for democrat in this article….the whole page lights up in yellow!

            And ALL my counting is as spot on as my political analysis.

          • DrOfnothing

            Yes, the old Democrats were awful, no one contests that. But that same effort to suppress the black vote, for many decades now, has been wholly the provenance of the GOP.

          • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

            This link would have the master page for you to peruse without the filters. Or use this thing called “Google” to look up UNC salaries…which is what I did.


    • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

      I love it when a progressive admits they have no facts!

  • DrOfnothing

    This article is ridiculous. First off, it’s hypocritical to accuse Nichols of character assassination in a piece that is itself a smear job of Nichols.

    Secondly, the article Way himself cites as proof that NC is _not_ pricing poor people out of public education, in the _SAME SENTENCE_ he refers to, indicates that “Partially due to funding cuts, students at a public institution in North Carolina pay 52.0% more for tuition than they did five years ago. ”

    52% more! If that’s not putting college out of the reach of the poor, I don’t know what is.

    For both math skills and journalistic integrity, I give the author a D-.

  • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

    Sooooo….like every leftist/progressive/communist scheme in existence they want to have unlimited money along with no strings attached on how to spend it. This way they can repeatedly attack the hand that feeds them….and the hand must come back repeatedly.

  • Perseus

    The real beast is socialized medical care. NC (like many other states) is devoting an ever greater share of its budget to Medicaid, which gobbles up the largest slice of the spending pie in NC at 30% of the total budget and squeezes out spending on everything else. In bluest of the blues California, Gov. Moonbeam has not fully funded the state’s public universities and prefers to spend the money on a high speed train to nowhere and Obamacare.

    • DrOfnothing

      Yeah, screw old people and disabled veterans! What have they ever done for this country to deserve basic healthcare?!

  • DrOfnothing

    “At any rate, Nichol styling himself as the champion of the poor against the wealthy Huns might strike some as a bit of a stretch. He is paid $211,400 for minimal work at UNC and, according to some reports, has homes valued at over $1.5 million. But he doesn’t let that stop him from throwing thunderbolts.”

    Yes, it’s almost as ridiculous as Art Pope claiming to be fighting for the rights of the “ordinary NC citizen” by pouring millions into conservative think-tanks and lobbying groups . . . like this one.