Community protests litigation ban against Center for Civil Rights
Protesters gathered on Tuesday outside UNC's Center for School Leadership Development to voice their disapproval for the proposed UNC Board of Governor's litigation ban against UNC Law School's Center for Civil Rights.
The BOG's education policy committee met in the building Tuesday to decide whether or not they would recommend the ban to the board at large, which they did with a 5-1 vote.
The center was founded by civil rights leader and lawyer Julius Chambers in 2001, and was known for taking on cases such as school segregation and education for clients who couldn’t afford legal representation. It currently employs two lawyers and a director and gives students who study civil rights law hands-on experience.
The litigation ban, which the BOG is scheduled to vote on Sept. 8, would prevent the center from taking on new cases and clients.
Altha Cravey, an associate professor of geography at UNC who attended the protest, said that the center serves the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in the state and exists for those groups to seek help. She said the litigation ban would prevent the center from serving those communities, and would also hurt UNC from an educational angle.
“Students who come here to go to the law school, some of them select this law school because they want to learn civil rights law,” Cravey said. “Here we’ve got a board member who wants to ban litigation and basically gut that specialization in the UNC law school.”
Steve Long, a tax attorney based in Raleigh, is the BOG member who proposed the litigation ban. Midway through the protest, he passed by to enter the CSLD. Protesters chanted “shame” and “Long is wrong” as Long walked into the building.
If the litigation ban were to pass it would reflect an attempt at undermining academic freedom, various protesters said.
Tim Longest, a student at the UNC School of Law, said he chose UNC’s law school specifically to study civil rights law and encouraged the BOG to reject the proposal in order to continue the University’s legacy of public service.
“The UNC Board of Governors, constitutionally entrusted with our state’s crown jewel, owes its first duty not to the party line in the General Assembly, nor to the privileged few,” Longest said. “It owes its first duty to the people of North Carolina.”
Faisal Khan, a peace activist and community organizer from Morrisville, said no committee or external factor should affect the freedom of education and its ability to assist underprivileged communities.
“If there needs to be a ban, then ban inequality, ban racism, ban Islamophobia, ban xenophobia, ban hate,” Khan said. “There needs to be a ban on groups and institutions that are violating our rights and undermining our freedom.”
Protestors said the proposed litigation ban parallels with the BOG’s closing of the UNC's Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity in 2015. Some believed it was an attempt to censor law professor Gene Nichol, who was also the head of the former center and critic of the state legislature.
“This is just one more time when (the BOG) are trying to undercut the University and its real purpose,” Cravey said. “It really makes mad.”
However, Cravey said she still has hope that the BOG won't vote for the proposal.
“Hopefully there’s people inside there making these votes that are going to think about whether they really want to vote against civil rights,” Cravey said. “That’s a hard vote to take.”
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