After months of protest and debate, the UNC Board of Governors voted to ban litigation at all UNC-system academic centers Friday.
The ban leaves UNC School of Law's Center for Civil Rights unable to do legal work for low-income and minority groups. The ban would affect all academic centers, but the Civil Rights Center is the only one of its kind in the school system.
Proponents of the ban argued litigation at academic centers is against UNC's mission to do legal work against other government entities. Board member William Webb said he would vote to prevent any center from suing the government.
Critics of the ban said it would damage the University's reputation and students' legal education. They also argued the ban would shut down the Center.
Board member Anna Nelson, chairperson of the committee which proposed the ban, said the policy was inappropriate.
"I regret that we are having this conversation at the Board of Governors ... For me ... I feel there is something larger at risk, and that is the University itself," she said.
Nelson — along with board members Pearl Burris-Floyd, Walter Davenport and Darrell Allison — voted against the ban. UNC-system student body President Tyler Hardin said he would have voted against the ban if he had a vote on the board.
Burris-Floyd said she had the chance to meet the late Julius Chambers — the Center's founder. She said her life was greatly impacted by Chambers.
"There are poor people all over the state of North Carolina who have benefited from what the Center for Civil Rights has done," Burris-Floyd said.
The Center's managing attorney Mark Dorosin stood and questioned the board's decision following the vote. He asked how the board could say they support civil rights after shutting down the Center.
A board member asked the board's chairperson, Lou Bissette, to have Dorosin removed for disrupting the meeting.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said she was disappointed in the board's vote in a statement.
"I believe that the University and the people who testified on behalf of the Center made a compelling case about why the Center is so important to the people of our state." she said. "I am proud of the Center, its history and all who worked so hard to answer the board’s questions and provide important facts about how the Center serves the needs of our citizens."
She said she will work with University leadership to determine the future of the Center.
Bissette said the ban was not meant to target UNC's School of Law or the Center for Civil Rights.
Fayetteville State University Chancellor James Anderson said it was a "day of reckoning" for the UNC-system. He said UNC would be the only law school in the country that doesn't provide pro-bono work for low-income groups.
Board member Steve Long praised the Center's work, but said law clinics are the proper place for litigation, not centers.
In a July 8 memorandum, Long addressed these concerns by emphasizing the difference between law centers and law clinics. Specifically, Long referenced his conversation with the interim director of a similar center at the University of Wisconsin Law School, the main difference being that their center does not litigate — rather, all litigation is done by students and supervising faculty as a part of a separate law clinic.
After the meeting, Bissette explained: "The Center has more professional lawyers there to do the work. Although students did pass through there, there's no question, but they never operated under the same requirements and protocols as the law clinics do."
Bissette said he agreed with Nelson about the ban not being on the top of his priority list.
"It's just not something we need," he said. "We don't need this kind of controversy in our system."
UNC-system President Margaret Spellings was at the meeting to give her system report, but did not comment on the vote.
Thursday's meeting proposes possible changes
BOG members raised concerns about the way the board operates at Thursday's meeting.
Resolutions were passed to create committees to review "the role, purpose, size and scope of general administration as it relates to the UNC-system" — including a review of the size of President Spellings' staff to possibly cut positions in the future.
Bissette said board members want to understand the make-up of the UNC General Administration.
"There are 265 employees," he said. "It services all of the university system campuses in one way or another. I think it's more of an educational effort for people to (learn what the staff does)."
Board member Thom Goolsby made a motion to form a committee to move UNC GA headquarters out of Chapel Hill. Nelson — daughter of former UNC system President Dick Spangler, for whom the GA's C.D. Spangler, Jr. Building is named for – said the proposal does not align with UNC GA's mission.
Many of the resolutions were proposed by new members. Most of the members that elected Spellings' as president were not re-elected by the N.C. General Assembly.
The board also passed a resolution to lower UNC-system tuition and fees.
The protests continue
Chants from protesters outside the building could be heard in the board room Friday.
"If we don't get no justice, then you don't get no peace," they chanted.
Following the meeting Ted Shaw, director of the Center and UNC law professor, spoke to the protesters.
"A number of the members of the Board of Governors talked about the fact that they supported the Center for Civil Rights, and this was not an attack on the Center," Shaw said. "That could not be further from the truth.
"What they did today is shameful. It is an assault on the Center for Civil Rights."
Senior writers Bailey Aldridge and Danielle Chemtob contributed reporting.
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