Under the Dome

UNC provost: More questions than answers about policy center

UNC-Chapel Hill Provost Jim Dean updated faculty leaders Monday on a directive in the state budget for the university to create the N.C. Policy Collaboratory, which would provide environmental research and policy advice to state and local governments.

At a meeting of the UNC Faculty Council’s executive committee, Dean said the university has a lot of work ahead to figure out how the new entity will be set up.

“It’s still very early to talk about what the collaboratory will end up being,” Dean said.

The policy effort was created outside of the normal academic policies and structures. It has caused concern among some faculty and environmentalists who fear that a political agenda will be imposed on the university. Jeff Warren, science adviser to Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, is rumored to be in line to lead the new effort.

Lawmakers wanted the collaboratory to leverage UNC expertise “because they had a difficult time getting accurate, unbiased information about questions having to do with environmental kinds of issues,” Dean said.

“I’m going to be honest and say that’s kind of unusual,” Dean added. “That doesn’t really happen that way very often and we weren’t really sure what to make of it.”

Dean said university administrators are talking about several ideas, including creating an advisory committee, figuring out how to decide what research projects would be done and who would do them.

He said some could be conducted by UNC professors, faculty at other UNC system campuses or even by consulting firms.

At this point, Dean said, there are more questions than answers about the collaboratory.

“For me as provost, the single most important thing is that every bit of research that comes out of this has to be held to the highest standards and has to be unbiased,” he said.

Faculty Chair Dr. Bruce Cairns said, “You can be assured that faculty are very, very interested in this.”

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill