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From Joyce Holmes’ (jholmes@mindspring.com) Daily Update

CENTER FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

                (Cobbled together from several sources)

“The UNC Center for Civil Rights is committed to the advancement of civil rights and social justice, especially in the American South. It fosters empirical and analytical research, sponsors student inquiry and activities and convenes faculty, visiting scholars, policy advocates and practicing attorneys to confront legal and social issues of greatest concern to racial and ethnic minorities, to the poor and to other potential beneficiaries of civil rights advances. The Center’s work focuses on education, housing and community development, economic justice and voting rights. One recent suit involved a waste dump planned for an African-American community. Thanks to the Center, the county agreed to build an elementary school there instead.

However, one man, Steve Long, a 56-year-old Raleigh tax attorney and member of the UNC Board of Governors, is adamant that the center – founded by the late, noted civil rights attorney Julius Chambers – not be allowed to litigate. (ed.: What he’s really mad about is that the Center fights many of the policies of our Republican friends in Raleigh!)

“The university should not be, in my opinion, hiring full-time lawyers to sue anybody,” he said of the center, which employs two lawyers and a director, and gives practical experience to law students. If the UNC Center for Civil Rights loses its legal powers to represent poor and minority clients in court, it likely will be because of this man.

Long proposed the policy earlier this year, on his own, even though he does not serve on the board’s committee that oversees educational policy. Since then, he has vigorously questioned the center about its operations. He’s worked the phones to make his points with board members.

Center supporters have suggested that the proposal to bar lawsuits is a politically driven attack. The board is overwhelmingly Republican; five members on the incoming board are former Republican state legislators. Many if not most of the Center’s cases involve some variety of discrimination against non-white, low-income groups that cannot afford to hire their own legal help.

Long admits this criticism is true. “You have a center with litigation as its focus, you have state-funded lawyers… with only one political viewpoint.

So far, he’s been responsible for closing three related centers: Biodiversity at East Carolina, Voter Engagement at NC Central and Nichol’s Poverty Center at UNC.  Critics said the board made the decisions based purely on politics and in the process violated the academic freedom of the faculty.

Already, a UNC system Board of Governors proposal to bar the UNC Center for Civil Rights and other law-school centers and institutes from representing clients has harmed the university, the dean of UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Law says.

It “interferes with and diminishes the quality of the intellectual environment, not just at the law school but in the university as a whole, in ways from which the institution will not soon recover,” said Martin Brinkley, a former private-practice attorney who became the School of Law’s dean in 2015. “The proposal will do great damage to one of North Carolina’s most treasured assets: a great state university.”

UNC President Margaret Spellings president@northcarolina.edu has not taken a position and neither has Board Chair Lou Bisette lbissette@mwblawyers.com

Final action on the proposal could be taken at the September BOG meeting.

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