Letter to the Editor: An Open Letter to ASU Students: Gene Nichol, Academic Freedom and Democracy


The Appalachian Online

Letters to the Editor

You’re taught from a young age that the United States has been a trailblazer for democracy and free speech. Yet now that you’re old enough to vote, what kind of democracy have you been left with? Are bought campaigns, the suppression of minority and young people’s voting rights, and gerrymandered elections really the democracy you were promised?

With their proud tradition of academic freedom, universities, at least, were among the last bastions of democratic values in an increasingly bleak landscape. Now they, too, are under attack. This is why I encourage you to attend Gene Nichol’s talk tonight at 8 p.m. in Appalachian State’s Schaefer Center.

A law professor and former college president, Nichol ran University of North Carolina’s Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity from 2008 until last February. Nichol is an outspoken advocate for the poor and a fierce critic of policies that hurt them. Yet he has been repeatedly chastised by state and university leaders simply for speaking out—for using his rights under the First Amendment:

– In 2013, UNC administrators asked Nichol to stop publishing critical editorials and participating in Moral Monday marches;

– Private think-tanks funded by Art Pope, who financed the campaigns of the current governor and state legislature, used public records requests to try to intimidate Nichol into silence;

– Last February 27, the UNC Board of Governors—all 32 of whom were appointed by the current legislature, and 29 of whom are registered Republicans—voted to shut down Nichol’s Poverty Center because of his activism.

Make no mistake: Nichol’s sole crime was his choice to speak his mind on matters of public concern.

If this is not the kind of university—or democracy—you want, please attend Nichol’s talk on Sept. 10.


Dr. Michael C. Behrent
Associate Professor of History
President, ASU Chapter of the American Association of University Professors