Following up on my previous posts:
News & Observer op-ed: Julius Chambers Warned That Conservatives Would Oppose UNC’s Civil Rights Center, by Gene Nichol (North Carolina):
The law school in Chapel Hill is a storied institution. It has produced remarkable North Carolina leaders like Frank Graham, Bill Friday, Terry Sanford, Bill Aycock, Suzie Sharp, Jim Hunt and Henry Frye. But, at bottom, it’s a school for lawyers. And none doubt UNC’s greatest lawyer was Julius Chambers.
When I came to Carolina to become dean in 1999, one of my principal goals, ratified by the faculty and Chancellor Michael Hooker, was to establish a civil rights center. It would link powerfully to the state’s history, focus on its continuing challenges, provide otherwise unattainable experiences for students, and, I hoped, be led by America’s greatest civil rights lawyer, then N.C. Central chancellor, Julius Chambers.
It took eighteen months to talk Chambers into coming. I visited him eight times during his last year at Central. The first four he said no. The next couple, he bent a little, saying he’d think about it. On the last visit, he was serious. He began by asking, “do you have some kind of death wish?” This is North Carolina, he explained. “They won’t let you open a center to represent poor black people.” And if they do, “and if we do our work, they’ll close us down.” I was naïve. He wasn’t.
Today a couple of political lawyers on the Board of Governors seek to close the Civil Rights Center. The fevered partisans, who, to put it generously, know less than nothing about legal education, would bar the law school from teaching future civil rights lawyers the way Chambers believed most effective. It’s like Donald Trump demanding to instruct Pope Francis on humility. ...
The move, of course, is nakedly ideological. When BOG member Steve Long questioned center leaders, he said he wouldn’t object to the program’s work if it focused on Second Amendment claims or helped purportedly religious folks discriminate against gays and lesbians. If the Center were to offer a campus “guns in every dorm room” initiative, the BOG would endow it, not close it.
We started two centers at Carolina my first term as dean – a civil rights center and a banking law center. Both sought to drill down into interests, needs and capabilities singular to the Tar Heel state. The first was controversial from the day of its announcement. Oddly, in fifteen years, I’ve never heard a wisp of complaint about the banking center. It hasn’t been hauled before review boards or questioned by angry legislators. There is nothing more natural, and expected, than law in service to powerful economic interest. ...
Continued partisan interference with academic independence makes this a trying time for UNC. We’re also poorly equipped to defend ourselves. We haven’t had, in Chapel Hill, such weak leadership in decades. Our chancellor, provost and new law school dean have yet to find a principle they won’t surrender to save their purportedly prestigious positions.
But if the Civil Rights Center is closed, the law school will face serious accreditation problems in the months ahead. The ABA and the American Association of Law Schools won’t simply say, “we know you have a brutal legislature and cowardly leaders, so we’ll let it pass.” Students will suffer accordingly. And its hard for a school to compete nationally when suspended by accrediting agencies. Once again, we’ll pay heavy costs for mandated right wing experimentation. Chambers called it.