The controversy over the fate of the UNC Center for Civil Rights' ability to litigate dominated the UNC Board of Governors’ agenda in the past few meetings, but the university system managed to stay busy this summer.
The system appointed a new chancellor at North Carolina Central University and pushed legislators for higher education funding in the state budget.
Future for UNC Civil Rights Center remains uncertain
A proposal to ban the UNC Center for Civil Rights from litigating will advance to the full board in September after receiving initial approval from a committee earlier this month.
The ban, being pushed by board member Steven Long, seeks to protect the “academic focus” of centers by prohibiting them from participating in litigation.
Long said law students can receive training in civil rights litigation through law clinics or private organizations.
“The Center for Civil Rights has not done just civil rights litigation, but they’ve been involved in very political issues, and they’ve used the litigation to further the agenda of the managing attorney at that center,” he said.
Ted Shaw, the center’s director, rejected the idea that the center’s work is political.
“The center does exactly what other civil rights advocates do, whether they’re located in law school settings or whether they’re in public interest settings,” he said. “They provide representation to poor black and brown people who are struggling with the impact and the legacy of racial discrimination and inequality.”
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt wrote a letter to the board in late July supporting the center, and noted the ban would likely lead to the center’s closure, as it relies on private donations.
“I am concerned that eliminating or even weakening the Law School’s ability to train the next generation of civil rights lawyers will reflect poorly on our University and the School, as well as the University system and our state,” she said in the letter.
Long said the measure is likely to pass before the full board in its Sept. 8 meeting given its near unanimous approval in committee.
New chancellor a familiar face at NCCU
Following the death of N.C. Central University’s late chancellor Debra Saunders-White last year, UNC-System President Margaret Spellings appointed Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye at a special meeting on June 26.
Akinleye had been serving as interim chancellor since January. Spellings and a formal committee began the search for Saunders-White's replacement in January, narrowing down a pool of 30 candidates to three finalists for recommendation to the Board of Governors.
Akinleye served at UNC-Wilmington then at N.C. Central University for ten of his more than thirty-year higher education career.
“I will continue to assess, evaluate and transform the university to increase efficiencies, sustain shared resources, expand its academic and research portfolio and enhance its brand and reputation,” Akinleye said in his remarks to the board.
State budget funds UNC-system priorities, scales back law school cut
Though the final state budget was less generous to the UNC-system than Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposal, it spared higher education from the bigger cuts of previous years.
Armed with $10 million, UNC leaders are working on a plan to modernize and integrate the data systems across each of the 17 campuses.
BOG member Marty Kotis said the data will help the university system track student and financial data.
“In any sort of modern business you’d be tracking data so you can best see how the students succeed — tracking why people drop out of a class, how are we offering classes, are there enough classes in a certain area,” he said.
The UNC-system received $1 million in one-time appropriations for its faculty retention fund — $2 million less than they requested.
An initial proposal in the N.C. Senate’s budget draft would have cut the UNC Law School’s budget by $4 million — nearly a third of its state funds — was scaled back to a $500,000 cut after receiving backlash for being politically motivated.
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