It’s Been 0️⃣ Days Since UNC Was a National Embarrassment

May 21, 2021: Reset your humiliation clocks + the Durham commissioner who never filed campaign finance reports + the Roe repeal rush


1. UNC-CH Trustees Try, Fail to Defend Hannah-Jones Decision

Since we’re about to talk qualifications, let’s remember that the guy chairing the UNC Board of Governors does not have a bachelor’s degree, lied about earning an associate’s degree, but did receive a diploma from a boat mechanics program, which, in the eyes of the General Assembly, qualifies him to oversee 16 public universities.

The Board of Governors and the NCGA control the UNC-CH Board of Trustees, which earlier this week denied tenure to “1619 Project” creator Nikole Hannah-Jones on account of … you know, reasons.

  • Definitely not because she’s Black.

  • Or because The 1619 Project poked the bear of white resentment by forcing a critical reevaluation of the role of slavery and racism in the formation of American society, which is not exactly something the UNC System is ready to do.

Because—ostensibly—she’s not an academic.

  • “Susan King, dean of the journalism school, said she was told that the trustees didn’t approve tenure to someone outside of academia, as Hannah-Jones is a professional journalist, not a professor. However, the Knight Chair is specifically designed to bring the best in their industry into higher education.” (N&O)

  • Of course, other Knight chairs weren’t academics—that’s kind of the point, to bring people with real-life experience into university classrooms. Journalism isn’t a profession you learn in a classroom. (I assume UNC Hussman is better, but my j-school was useless.)

  • The handling of this phony controversy has made UNC’s administration a national laughingstock, again.

For the record: The right’s histrionics over The 1619 Project’s alleged inaccuracies boil down to, in essence, an overstated section of one essay, which The NYT Mag clarified and corrected. In short, Hannah-Jones wrote that a primary reason for the American Revolution was the protection of slavery.

  • The NYT Mag: “We stand behind the basic point, which is that among the various motivations that drove the patriots toward independence was a concern that the British would seek or were already seeking to disrupt in various ways the entrenched system of American slavery.”

  • “If the scholarship of the past several decades has taught us anything, it is that we should be careful not to assume unanimity on the part of the colonists, as many previous interpretive histories of the patriot cause did. We recognize that our original language could be read to suggest that protecting slavery was a primary motivation for all of the colonists. The passage has been changed to make clear that this was a primary motivation for some of the colonists.”

Yesterday, UNC trustees tried to gaslight the media about what happened:

I … have an idea.

2. Durham Commissioner Burns Never Filed Campaign Finance Reports

As part of my recent reporting on Durham County, I pulled campaign finance reports for all five county commissioners, either through the state Board of Elections or the Durham County Board of Elections. I didn’t see anything that grabbed me as unusual, but you can look for yourself at these links (email me if I missed something): 

But look for Nimasheena Burns’s finance reports, and all you’ll find is her certification of treasurer and her statement of organization from 2019. That’s … not normal. 

  • Since Burns is her own treasurer, she would be responsible for the timely filing of her reports, according to the NCSBE.

  • Burns could be facing at least $500 in fines: “A committee that fails to submit a report by the due date receives a financial penalty. … If a report affects a nonstatewide election, the committee receives a penalty of $50 per day for each day the report is late, up to a maximum penalty of $500.”

  • “If a committee intentionally files a report late in order to conceal contributions or expenditures, the State Board of Elections may assess additional financial penalties.”

  • “A committee that fails to file a report entirely will receive a Notice of Noncompliance. If the committee does not file the missing report within 30 days of the Notice of Noncompliance, the committee’s active status will be terminated. A committee that is terminated may not receive or make contributions until it has filed the missing report and paid all penalties for the missing report.” 

Yesterday, the NCSBE told me Burns had failed to file her campaign finance reports with the Durham County Board of Elections, though the NCSBE has not yet sent a Notice of Noncompliance or assessed penalties.

  • Per NCSBE spokesman Patrick Gannon: “The State Board has received the certification [of the missing finance reports] from the county board of elections, but are still reviewing/processing and have not mailed any notice to date.”

  • The BOE sent that certification yesterday—i.e., the day I asked the NCSBE about it, and the NCSBE asked the BOE about it. But BOE director of elections Derek Bowens says the board was working on the delinquency certification well before I inquired about it. (And someone else apparently asked before I did.)

  • Bowens: “We submitted the delinquency certifications yesterday. The committee you reference has been previously notified of each late report and subsequent penalties that could be assessed for late submissions.” 

  • It looks like Burns might not be the only one in hot water: “We have been working on several matters related to campaign finance. We have multiple compliance reports to manage,” Bowens said.

  • I asked Burns about her missing finance reports on Wednesday morning. She never responded.

3. Raleigh Will Sell Property to Fund Affordable Housing

Raleigh’s city council—currently taking election-year heat for orchestrating a tax break for developer John Kane’s Downtown South megaproject—has proposed a new scheme to fund badly needed affordable housing downtown (the non-South one): sell its property.

  • Earlier this week, the council directed its staff to submit a rezoning application to the planning commission for a handful of downtown properties it owns, including along East Martin Street and the Lane Idelwild site on East Lane.

  • The properties are currently zoned to allow up to three stories; the new application will seek mixed-use zoning that allows up to 12.

  • The city will then sell off the sites after a bidding process and use the proceeds to develop affordable housing.

Here’s the catch: The affordable housing probably won’t go on these properties. They’re worth too much.

  • The county currently appraises them around $8 million. Increase the zoning, and you’re looking at a lot more. Remove restrictions on who can live there, and you’re looking at a lot more.

  • From the city’s perspective, that money can be used more effectively by buying cheaper land and building a lot more affordable housing.

  • Planning director Patrick Young: “It's a really difficult site for affordable housing. If we can get it on the site, we’ll get it on the site, but we realize the constraints on that.” (TBJ, subscription only)

  • That strategy risks furthering the seemingly inexorable trend of pushing the non-wealthy outside of the urban core.


  • If you were asking yourself, “What does downtown Durham need more of?” and the first thing that came to mind was, “Luxury condos!,” have I got news for you: The site of the Stone Brothers & Byrd garden center is turning into a “boutique” seven-story mixed-use building. (TBJ)

4. People Who Don’t Understand Critical Race Theory Are Mad Wake Schools Are (Not) Teaching Critical Race Theory

I almost ignored this story because I didn’t want to spotlight a “controversy” that, as best I can tell, is based on two things two randos wrote to the school board. But I hope to write something related to this next week, so I’ll at least put a pin in it.

Amid the dozens of comments submitted to the Wake County Board of Education ahead of Tuesday’s meeting—most about the mask policy—three mentioned the school system’s new equity policy; here are the two that linked it to CRT, in their full glory.

Daniel Cusimano:

Critical race theory is a Marxist doctrine promoting the belief that a person is bad, and an oppressor based on the color of their skin. This is in direct violation of the Civil Rights Acts and our constitution guaranteeing equal standing before the law. Critical race theory employs Karl Marx’s tactics to eliminate the good accomplishments and aspirations of a nation and replace them with a focus on failures in the past. Specifically, it does not recognize the fact 300,000 white men who died to set slaves free in the Civil War. Men and women of conscience have been driving towards a society envisioned by our American hero, Dr Martin Luther King for decades. The goal to judge a person by the quality of their character instead of the color of their skin.

As a taxpayer , father, Uncle and more I strongly object to a philosophy which sees white people as evil and black people as weak.

Please speak directly to your intentions to promote or not promote the Marxist doctrine of Critical race theory.

Aaron Herman:

To Wake County Board of Education:

Equity Affairs officer Mr. Trice has given notice after working in the district for 7 years. It appears his major duty has been involved in launching the release of Critical Raise Theory with out parent consent. This is shameful of a district as large as Wake County to not provide parents with all necessary information.

(The third comment on the equity policy is too long to include and doesn’t mention CRT; it’s about public input.)

I don’t mean to dunk on these people, who, I’m guessing, have heard of CRT primarily through the Tucker Carlson School of Race Relations. But the N&O used Cusimano’s comment as a launching pad to get clicks by throwing the word “Marxist” in the headline.

Just to clear some things up:

  • 1) Wake’s equity policy isn’t critical race theory. It does, however, acknowledge that systemic racism exists and disadvantages some students, which is a fact of life: “For purposes of this policy, equity looks beyond individual acts of prejudice to the systemic, even if unintended, biases that can be seen or detected in practices, processes, systems, outcomes, attitudes, and behavior.”

  • 2) Critical race theory isn’t Marxist, though it highlights the manifest flaws in capitalism, or anti-American, unless you consider Americanism to be white. It’s a corrective that analyzes history, economics, and social structures through the framework of racism and power and reassesses Western liberal traditions.

  • 3) Yes, the NCGA wants to ban teaching it—or more specifically, ban teaching anything that will make white kids uncomfortable about what their ancestors did, which is going to make the Civil War section really awkward.

The Republican attacks on academic freedom are worth reporting; like CRT or not, it’s a perspective worthy of intellectual exploration. Shoehorning two not-entirely-informed comments about CRT into a piece about an unrelated equity policy isn’t very useful, IMHO.

For any fellow journalists who happen to be reading, I’ll drop this here. It’s very good advice:

5. The Rush to Repeal Roe

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization, a decision with ominous implications for the fate of abortion rights. Dobbs is a challenge to a Mississippi law banning abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy, which openly flouts Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a 1992 case in which the court ruled:

  • “Before viability, the State's interests are not strong enough to support a prohibition of abortion or the imposition of a substantial obstacle to the woman's effective right to elect the procedure.”

  • No fetus is viable at 15 weeks; 22 weeks is the standard. Mississippi’s law is patently unconstitutional—unless the Supreme Court throws out precedent.

  • That’s probably what’s going to happen. With the 6–3 conservative majority, even John Roberts’s institutionalism probably won’t be enough to save Roe. Whether the court slaughters it whole or begins bleeding it out, the only reason to accept Dobbs was to lay the groundwork for Roe’s demise.

  • This was the point of seating Amy Coney Barrett a week before Trump lost.

On Wednesday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott went further, signing the country’s most restrictive abortion law. It bans abortions past six weeks—before most women know they’re pregnant. Bizarrely, it also allows any private citizen to sue doctors or clinicians who perform or help arrange abortions.

  • Abbott called it a “heartbeat” law, though six-week-old fetuses have not developed hearts and, thus, don’t have heartbeats.

  • “‘What is detectable at or around six weeks can more accurately be called cardiac activity,’ says Robyn Schickler, OB/GYN and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health. The difference between ‘cardiac activity’ and ‘heartbeat’ may seem linguistically minimal, but Schickler and others argue otherwise. At this stage, she says, what doctors can detect is essentially communication between a group of what will eventually become cardiac cells.”

But even repealing Roe isn’t the end game. States could still permit abortions, and (sufficiently wealthy) women in red states could travel to terminate their pregnancies. What the “pro-life” crowd really wants is a court-ordered total ban:

Now some abortion-rights opponents are quite literally looking for a Roe of their own, asking the Court to recognize fetal rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. … In the conservative magazine First Things, John Finnis, a professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, recently made an argument that could provide the framework an anti-abortion-rights Supreme Court could use to outlaw abortion across the country: that the legislators who wrote the Fourteenth Amendment viewed unborn children as persons. If the Constitution recognizes fetal personhood, then unborn children would have the right to equal protection under and due process of the law. Abortion would be unconstitutional in New York as well as in Alabama. 

With a 6–3 court, where Brett Kavanaugh is the median justice, such a conclusion isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.

  • The court will hear Dobbs in the fall. If Senate Dems are ever going to rethink their resistance to court-packing, now would be the time.