The damage is real
Published July 15, 2021
By Thomas Mills
Joe Killian is killin’ it. The Policy Watch reporter got most of the scoops in the Nikole Hannah-Jones debacle and he’s been documenting the damage that the GOP has done to the University of North Carolina. Snubbing Hannah-Jones certainly grabbed national attention, but the damage has been ongoing.
Killian noted last month that the Director of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South, Malinda Maynor Lowery, is leaving the school. For her, the treatment of Hannah-Jones was just the last straw. The harm that the GOP has done to the school’s reputation has been ongoing. The Mellon Foundation rescinded a $1.5 million grant because of the $2.5 million deal the Board of Trustees made with Sons of Confederate Veterans to take care of Silent Sam.
Conservatives have been arguing since they took power that running down the states’ reputation has few costs. Former NC GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse argued that no measurable damage will come from the fallout over losing Hannah-Jones. He claims there will be no measurable amount of damage, such as a mass exodus of faculty, drop in applications, or loss of donations. He’s already wrong.
The loss of Hannah-Jones will almost certainly deter some applicants, especially African Americans the school needs to diversify its student body. The loss of Lowery is also a hit, sending a message to fellow researchers that the university is not a good working environment. In addition, highly recruited scientist Lisa Jones declined to come to UNC’s School of Chemistry because of the Hannah-Jones debacle. Finally, the Mellon Foundation pulled hard cash from the school. Clearly, we’ve already been damaged.
The impact, though, will be more like the GOP’s hit on the state’s reputation. The harm will be less dramatic than a mass exodus from the university. Jobs are too tough to get in academia for that. Instead, it will be more like the fallout from HB-2 or Amendment One. We’ll never know how many businesses didn’t locate here because of they fear a discriminatory social environment for their employees. What we do know, is that despite all of the hype about tax cuts, our economy grew much slower under Republicans over the past decade than under Democrats the previous decade.
We won’t know how many high profile academics take a pass on coming to a UNC school because of the meddling of the Board of Governors or Board of Trustees. We won’t know how many grant applications are not considered. And we won’t know how many top graduate students write off the university or how many top-tier high school students will decide to look at other schools.
We’re lucky to have Joe Killian and Policy Watch shining a light on the University system at a time when shrinking media budgets are leaving much of state government operating in the dark. Still, it will be hard to document all of the damage Republicans are doing. Many of the negative impacts will show up over time, more subtly than a mass exodus or drop in applications. The harm to the university is real as is the damage to our state as a whole.