UNC Board Of Governors Bans Civil Rights Center From New Litigation

Sep 7, 2017

Supporters of the UNC Center for Civil Rights protest outside of a committee meeting of the UNC Board of Governors meeting on August 1, 2017.
Credit Dave Dewitt / WUNC

Updated at 10:56 a.m., September 8, 2017

The UNC Board of Governors has passed a resolution that bans university-based centers from filing lawsuits. The resolution means the Center for Civil Rights, based at the UNC Chapel Hill Law School, can no longer sue on behalf of low-income and minority clients. 

"This vote does not show a lack of support for the UNC law school by this board," said Lou Bissette, chair of the Board of Governors. "It also does not show a lack of support for the Civil Rights Center."

The Board of Governors previously closed a center on poverty at the Law School. The General Assembly has also cut the law school's budget by $500,000. 

After the vote, the managing attorney for the Center for Civil Rights, Mark Dorosin, interrupted the meeting and was removed. 

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt said she was disappointed in the vote by the university's Board of Governors.

“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," Folt said in a statement Friday. "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."

Since its beginnings in 2001, the UNC Center for Civil Rights has fought legal battles on behalf of low-income and minority communities across the state.

The man behind the proposal is Board of Governors member and Raleigh attorney Steve Long, who believes the center’s legal battles violate the university system’s educational mission. Long has said that one part of the state, such as the center, should not sue another.

Critics of the proposal say the center provides legal counsel to marginalized communities that most need it, and otherwise cannot afford it. They say the proposed ban is an ideological attack on the center's social justice mission.

In one of its cases, the center prevented the expansion of a landfill in a black community already home to an animal shelter, sewage treatment facility, and hog farm. In another, it fought modern-day school segregation.

Members of the Board of Governors are elected by the state legislature, which has weighed heavily Republican in recent years.

With today's decision, the center will be allowed to continue litigation it has already started, but it will not be allowed to engage in any new cases.