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U. of North Carolina Chancellor Criticizes Board’s Proposal to Hamstring Civil-Rights Center

Carol L. Folt, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has publicly proclaimed her support for an embattled civil-rights center’s ability to pursue litigation, The News & Observer reports.

The university system’s Board of Governors is considering a proposal to prevent the UNC Law School’s Center for Civil Rights from engaging in any litigation. In the past, the center — which was founded in 2001 by the civil-rights lawyer Julius Chambers — has taken on cases involving school segregation and equal rights to education for clients who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford legal representation.

In a letter sent on Friday to Anna Nelson, chair of the board committee that is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the proposed ban, Ms. Folt outlined six ways that the center and the flagship university would be negatively affected if the proposal is adopted, including that a “foreseeable result” would be the center’s closure. ”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 the state,” Ms. Folt wrote.

Proponents of the ban on the board, which is appointed by the state legislature, say taking on litigation and potentially suing parts of the state is at odds with the school’s academic mission. “The university should not be, in my opinion, hiring full-time lawyers to sue anybody,” Steve Long, a board member who proposed the ban, told The News & Observer.

But supporters of the center’s ability to pursue litigation said that a ban would remove a fundamental academic component of law students’ education. The proposal has also drawn criticism from more than 600 law-school administrators and faculty members across the United States, who earlier in July signed a letter to the Board of Governors stating that the proposed policy would “needlessly tarnish the reputation of UNC in the national legal-education community.”

The board has taken a critical view of advocacy centers in recent years, in 2015 voting to close the flagship’s Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity amid protests.

If the Board of Governors’ committee approves the ban on Tuesday, the policy would be presented to the full board for consideration. The system’s president, Margaret Spellings, and the chair of the Board of Governors, Lou Bissette, have not publicly indicated their stance on the proposal, the Associated Press reported.

Read Ms. Folt’s letter in full here.

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