“Will no one rid me of this troublesome professor?” (Paraphrasing King Henry II on Thomas Becket.)
Fifty years ago, the legislature brought shame on North Carolina, dishonor on themselves and harm to UNC when the honorables passed the Speaker Ban Law to protect college students from a feared invasion of pro-Communist speakers. Eventually, wiser heads prevailed, the law was repealed and the Communists lost.
Now, Raleigh’s Republican regime appears determined to purge the university of the troublesome voice of Gene Nichol, a UNC-Chapel Hill law professor.
Nichols committed the grave sin of criticizing Governor McCrory in a column, calling him “hapless Pat” and “a 21st century successor to Maddox, Wallace and Faubus.” The hapless-Pat line is pretty good, even though the comparison to the trio of Southern segregationist governors is a stretch.
But McCrory, again demonstrating the rabbit-eared sensitivity that hears a critical squeak uttered in any corner of the political arena, can’t take it. He was almost as upset as the time when the grocery store chef mouthed off at him. Even though he was in Mississippi for a meeting, the Governor called a political ally on the UNC Board of Governors to complain.
A flurry of emails and phone calls ensued, as Jane Stancill reveals in her excellent N&O story. So now Nichol puts a disclaimer on his writings that “he doesn’t speak for UNC.” No more, one assumes, than Obama-hater Chris Conover speaks for Duke University when he appears before legislative committees to denounce the Affordable Care Act.
Clearly, Republican operatives are out for Nichols’ head. They won’t be satisfied until he is banished from the University and an example is made of him for any other pointy-headed professors who have the audacity to speak out against the powers-that-be in Raleigh.
You would think that someone in the Republican Party might realize how damaging this will be to a UNC system already battered by budget cuts and cheap political shots, to a state whose “brand” (if you will) was built on a great university and – yes – to their own personal reputations.
Ask Henry II. History is not kind to those who seek to silence the voices of dissent.
Plus, it doesn’t work. The victims become martyrs. And more people pay attention to them.