The future of the UNC Center for Civil Rights is unclear, after a proposal was filed to ban its lawyers from litigation.
The Educational Planning, Policies and Programs committee of the UNC Board of Governors debated the proposal in March, and requested reports from both UNC and North Carolina Central University before making its decision.
The center’s managing attorney Mark Dorosin said the center provides great hands-on experience for the university’s law students.
“Not all the students we work with become civil rights lawyers,” he said. “Many go into private practice and they also say that the experience and learning how to be a lawyer, how to work with clients, particularly under-resourced clients and communities, has been really integral in their development.”
The proposal was filed by board member Joe Knott. But board member and supporter of the proposal, Steve Long said all UNC centers should focus solely on education and shouldn’t be able to sue the state, according to the News & Observer.
The center typically works on cases that involve social justice issues, including a lawsuit against Pitt County Schools for a reassignment plan in 2015.
Dorosin said the center provides valuable resources to the surrounding community that need to be maintained.
“When you’re talking about civil rights or equality, or equal access to justice, that benefits all of us,” he said. “Those are values that if we ignore those, our collective strength is restrained. Our collective potential can never be reached.”
Dorosin said the earliest he expects a vote could be the board’s meeting in July, which is in Asheville.
“We had thought they were going to vote on the proposal on May 18, but it looks like now they’re going to push it off until July,” he said. “Which is unfortunate because there’s less students around and there’s less faculty around and I would say in my paranoid conspiracy theory mindset, not coincidentally, the meeting’s at UNC Asheville.”
He said there’s no real way of telling when the board will vote on the center’s future. But, Dorosin said it’s important for everyone to attend the public hearing session this week so that all voices are heard.
“You never know what they’re going to do,” he said. “They don’t put the agenda out until the week of the meeting, so folks should come out on the 18th and be present and show support for the struggle of civil rights.”
The public hearing session is Thursday from 11:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. at the Center for School Leadership Development on Friday Center Drive. The board is no longer accepting registrations to speak at the meeting, but is still accepting digital comments until Wednesday.