Editorial: Ideological feud ignores student needs, damages UNC

Posted August 9

UNC Law School Civil Rights Center & UNC Board of Governors

CBC Editorial: Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017; Editorial # 8196
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

It is an ideological feud run amok. The roots are in the clichéd notion that North Carolina’s public universities are incubators of socialist, environmentalist, gender-liberating, non-Christian politics. Ideologues who claim a religious, conformist, free-market mantel are on a crusade to cleanse the halls of academia.

And so now the clash has devolved into an on-going battle between out-spoken University of North Carolina Board of Governors member Steve Long and equally outspoken UNC Law School professor Gene Nichol, who advocates on behalf of the financially disadvantaged and for civil rights.

This feud’s collateral damage has been inflicted upon the Law School’s Center for Civil Rights. Last week a Board of Governor’s committee voted 5-1 to ban all centers and institutes in the UNC system from joining or initiating lawsuits. A vote of the full board is set for early next month.

“The University shouldn’t be hiring full-time lawyers to sue third parties, particularly the cities and counties and the state itself,” Long declared. Ted Shaw, director of the center, differed. “This is an ideological hit on the Center for Civil Rights. I think everybody knows it.” Former school dean Judith Wegner echoed Shaw. “I come back to politics, or personal vendettas or things of that sort,” she said.

The Center has worked with local citizens to challenge segregation in public school systems and on behalf of those who say practices by many of the state’s huge hog-farming operations discriminate against residents, many of them minorities, who live and work near these facilities. Following the series of lawsuits, the legislature, over Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto, enacted a law to limit the rights of citizens to sue hog operations as nuisances.

One of the things law schools across the nation do -- something being demanded by future employers -- is experiential learning, which the Civil Rights Center provides and which is essential to the school’s education mission.

Would the Board of Governor’s demand medical schools stop future doctors from hospital internships and treating patients? Should schools of education end student-teaching assignments?

We’d hope not. But given some of the radical ideological motivations of the Board of Governors and the legislators who appoint them, it unfortunately wouldn’t be a surprise.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt, in a thoughtful and detailed note to the Board of Governors, was unequivocally supportive of the law school’s center and its mission. The proposed policy risked “significant damage to the reputation of the University and the Law School.”

“Preventing the Center for Civil Rights from representing clients in litigation would needlessly tarnish the reputation of UNC in the national legal education community,” Folt said. “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 our state.”

As has been too often the case lately, the priorities of the privileged, well-financed special interests are of greater concern than the interest of citizens and the institutions that our legislators in general, and our UNC Board of Governors in particular, are supposed to promote.

“The litmus test on this decision should be what is in the best interests of our students,” rightly said Chancellor Folt.

It is a test the UNC Board unfortunately appears headed to fail, at a steep cost to student learning and the university system’s once-lofty reputation.


Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • Jim Bradshaw Aug 9, 11:21 a.m.
    user avatar

    UNC graduates lawyers on a yearly basis. It should not be the "job" of the University to do third party law suits. Let some of those UNC graduates provide their services Pro bono and allow law school students to intern the cases if this is so much a part of the "learning experience." My tax dollars are not meant to provide Pro bono legal services to anyone.

  • Catherine Edwards Aug 9, 10:59 a.m.
    user avatar

    There are plenty of white people who are financially disadvantaged.

    I think it's a shame that the legislature wants to stop the experiential learning. What are they doing meddling in what a university teaches?