Under the Dome

Key vote on UNC Center for Civil Rights scheduled for August

A UNC Board of Governors committee has scheduled a special meeting Aug. 1 to consider whether to ban the UNC Center for Civil Rights from suing on behalf of its clients.
A UNC Board of Governors committee has scheduled a special meeting Aug. 1 to consider whether to ban the UNC Center for Civil Rights from suing on behalf of its clients. hlynch@newsobserver.com

A UNC Board of Governors committee has scheduled a special meeting Aug. 1 to consider whether to ban the UNC Center for Civil Rights from suing on behalf of its clients.

The issue has been debated for months, and an unscheduled vote on the matter almost happened Tuesday during a telephone meeting. The matter was not on the agenda of the board’s Committee on Educational Planning, Policies and Programs.

Toward the end of the meeting, board member Marty Kotis made a motion to vote immediately on the proposed ban, saying it was time to get the issue settled. The motion was seconded, but ultimately failed by a vote of 5-2.

Now it looks like the issue will go before the committee on Aug. 1, and possibly to the full board in September.

One proposed change has been added to board member Steve Long’s desired ban. That language would make clear that the prohibition on legal action only applies to UNC centers, not legal clinics. Opponents of the ban had warned that it would prevent students in various legal clinics at UNC and N.C. Central University from doing their work.

So the Aug. 1 vote would apply only to the UNC Center for Civil Rights, since it’s the only center in the UNC system that participates in legal actions. Long has said that the center should not sue other government entities under the UNC name. Supporters of the privately funded center say it provides students with vital experience and serves low-income, minority clients who have nowhere else to turn. Banning legal action would effectively end the center, they say, and disrespect the legacy of the center’s founder, the famed civil rights attorney Julius Chambers.

The civil rights center’s staff is taking nothing for granted after Tuesday’s attempted unscheduled vote. Leaders of the center, based at UNC’s law school, plan to attend board meetings in Asheville Thursday and Friday, even though the litigation ban is not on the agenda.

“I think it's pretty clear that I need to go and be there,” said Ted Shaw, director of the center. “I hope it’s a waste of time.”

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