Conservatives unhappy with the work of a civil rights center at the University of North Carolina say a ban on litigation is meant to spare legal clinics while applying only to academic centers.
A revised version of the ban makes that distinction clear, said attorney Steve Long, a member of the board overseeing the 16-campus university system who has pushed for the ban.
“It doesn’t really change anything except we made express the fact that it does not apply to law clinics,” he said in a telephone interview July 11. “It never did. And opponents were trying to make it sound like it did.”
Ted Shaw, director of UNC Center for Civil Rights in Chapel Hill, had a different take on the purpose of the revision.
He said the purpose was to make clear that the actual target is the center.
“It just points to what drives all of this,” Shaw said. “It was hard for me to read that memo without my blood boiling, but I did.”
In an email Thursday night, Long said the litigation ban is a blanket policy that applies to all academic centers “now or the in future.” However, discussions about the ban have focused on the civil rights center with no mention that other academic centers do litigation.
Long didn’t return messages Thursday night seeking comment.
Long sent the revised proposal Saturday to the some members of the Board of Governors and the education committee.
At a public meeting in May, opponents of the ban said it would hurt not only the civil rights center but also law school clinics at UNC-CH and at N.C. Central University in Durham, a historically black school.
Supporters of the ban say the center’s work isn’t in line with the school’s educational mission and that a public university shouldn’t sue governmental entities.
The Center for Civil Rights was founded in 2001 by noted civil rights attorney Julius Chambers, an African-American whose home, office and car were bombed as he pursued school desegregation cases in the 1960s and 1970s. It has taken on cases involving school segregation, equal education rights and a landfill in a poor community.
The education committee is scheduled to hold a special meeting Aug. 1 to vote on the ban. But a vote held Tuesday on the revised ban failed. Those on the call said it failed because the majority preferred not diverging from the plan to vote next month.
Committee member Marty Kotis of Greensboro, who made the motion to approve the revised ban, said he thought it would be more efficient for the panel to vote Tuesday rather than wait a couple of weeks.
Board chairman Louis Bissette said he’s not sure whether he supports the ban. A spokesman for UNC President Margaret Spellings didn’t return a message asking if she supports the ban.
The full board would likely vote on the ban at its September meeting if the committee approves it.
Shaw said he and the center staff plan to fight to the end. “They have the power, but not the right,” to limit the center’s work, he said.