Request for professor's records shows Civitas' malice

Dec. 17, 2013 @ 10:15 AM

The Herald-Sun on Nov. 30 reported that retired Col. Francis De Luca, the president of the Civitas Institute of Raleigh, has asked the University of North Carolina to provide it with all available records of e-mail, text-messages, and phone records of law professor Gene Nichol.  This was an extraordinary request.  The stated reason for the request was that Nichol has been a critic of Gov. Pat McCrory and our General Assembly and has compared our state’s 2013 politics to “southern civil rights oppression,” a comparison to which Civitas takes offense.

Nichol is an eminent professor of law and the director of the university’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity.  He has served as the dean of the law schools of the University of Colorado and our University of North Carolina, and as president of Virginia’s College of William and Mary. 

His correspondence files have scant public interest.  Perhaps Civitas hopes without reason to find an improper love letter to or from a student, or some other evidence of a private misdeed, so that it might next demand his dismissal, or at least his public humiliation.  De Luca’s claim is that because Nichol is a professor of our state university’s law school his personal records should “be scrutinized just like any other public official.”  He suggests that if Nichol seeks a right of privacy, he “should go to work for Duke, a private institution”.

As one with a half-century of engagement in issues of academic freedom, I may be especially quick to side with those scholars or teachers who express thoughts offensive to others.  Indeed, as a professor I have expressed many such thoughts; doing so has been central to my academic employment.  Moreover, the opinion expressed by Nichol regarding Civitas and its role in our state’s politics is one with which I agree.  I too see a resemblance between the politics of our General Assembly in 2013 led by Civitas and its founders and fans and those I observed 60 years ago as “civil rights oppression.”

Civitas claims to be entitled to tax exemption because of its devotion to the “promoting of the social welfare of the people of North Carolina “by (a) conducting research, sponsoring educational activities, disseminating information, and publicly advocating in favor of limited government and free market economics, and (b) engaging in any and all lawful activities that are are appropriate to carry out and fulfill any or all of the foregoing purpose.”  But its effort to invade the privacy of a professor and intimidate faculty is not such a promotion of the social welfare. To the contrary, Civitas has exposed its own malice. 

I urge the Internal Revenue Service to examine carefully the files of Civitas to see if it is indeed entitled to the status of tax exemption.  And perhaps its contributors are claiming unjustified deductions from their federal income tax.  I also urge our state Attorney General Roy Cooper and Secretary of State Elaine F. Marshall to consider whether Civitas might be evading taxes or otherwise engaged in unlawful practices designed to suppress the right to freedom of expression.  Surely for an opener all the files of Civitas and its officers and supporters should be published, preferably at its expense.

Paul D. Carrington is a professor of law emeritus and from 1978 to 1988 was dean of the Duke Law School.