Paul L. Caron

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Gene Nichol Criticizes 'Nakedly Ideological' Attack On UNC Center For Civil Rights, Calls Out 'Cowardly' Dean, Provost, And Chancellor

North Carolina LogoFollowing 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.

Legal Education | Permalink


Whether one likes Gene Nichol or not should be kept separate from whether one believes that structural racism persists in NC and elsewhere and how that should best be addressed and whether something like the Center makes sense and merits some direct or indirect government support. To see what constitutes real persecution of Republicans one only has to look at the reconstruction era in NC and other states.

Posted by: Patrick Driessen | Apr 18, 2017 5:37:59 AM

@virtually everyone here: the Center is privately funded.

" the Center for Civil Rights, which has four full-time employees and employs varying numbers of recent law school graduates as fellows. The center, which has an annual budget of approximately $500,000, isn’t run on state funding but relies on grants, foundations and gifts."

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Apr 17, 2017 10:36:02 PM

Amen, Eric. The Center hasn't crossed any Dems because it's a Dem operation. You won't see them doing any sort of battle against the current governor.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 17, 2017 7:30:26 PM

The nakedly partisan center is whining about naked partisan attacks upon it. Cry me a river, homes.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 17, 2017 7:28:59 PM

"White, Church going North Carolina residents" aren't interested in tearing any institutions at UNC down. They love UNC and want it to be strong for their children and grandchildren.

Unlike Art Pope, they aren't all multimillionaires who can afford to send their kids to Duke and don't care how much damage they cause to public universities' reputations.

Posted by: North Carolina | Apr 17, 2017 6:57:35 PM

The Center is necessary in order to show us how to spot racism. After all, if there's no grist, there's no call for a grinder, eh?

Posted by: Thomas Hazlewood | Apr 17, 2017 3:01:18 PM

So then is it the consensus that North Carolina, Maryland (where I live), and the United States in general have fully discharged their obligations to root out racism? If so, then Gene Nichol's temperament, the left's politicization of education, repeated attacks on Republicans (a somewhat humorous complaint in this context being 150 years too late), John Edwards, and the absence of 2nd amendment defense by certain civil rights organizations have indeed effected change. If the only kind of racial prejudice that exists in North Carolina is bad schooling caused by teachers' unions, then this Marylander is indeed in awe of the Tar Heel state for doing something that no other state has achieved.

Posted by: Patrick Driessen | Apr 17, 2017 2:19:42 PM

Earnest Question: I know very little about the ABA law school accreditation process. Would the disappearance of one clinic actually have a serious adverse impact on a school's accreditation?

Posted by: anonymous | Apr 17, 2017 2:09:32 PM

Quote: "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."

This dean would have been more impressive focusing on the real problem with legal education for both blacks and whites—the enormous cost. A quality legal education would have been a more effective way to protect the civil rights of all. Law school debts make it hard for poor and even middle-income people to afford the lawyers they need.

Posted by: Michael W. Perry | Apr 17, 2017 12:52:46 PM

A big question is: Why would the Republicans care enough to want to defund this Center unless it was ideological? Has the Center ever offended any Democrats? If not, that's evidence it's a biased organization being funded by taxpayers.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Apr 17, 2017 11:54:06 AM

So you are upset that the state would not support and openly leftist center. Try being balanced and support both sides maybe then you will get support, but I doubt you could comprehend doing such a thing given you obvious bias.

Posted by: old guy | Apr 17, 2017 9:34:48 AM

NIchol and his Center for Civil Rights are as nakedly partisan as their opponents. The left has spent the l1ast forty years politicizing education. It's blowback time.

Posted by: Randall Finley | Apr 17, 2017 7:06:08 AM

So, you wanted to run a publicly funded "civil rights" center, but not defend any *popular* civil rights? You only want to defend the civil rights the left likes, in a state whose government is dominated by the right?

This isn't terribly brilliant. Establish a reputation for impartially defending all civil rights, and you might get support from the right. Do it in a partisan fashion, and why should the other side's partisans fund you?

You're the nakedly ideological one here.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Apr 17, 2017 6:50:05 AM

This writer is blissfully unaware of his own biases. The only way he could have maintained that state of mind while living for years in NC would be by maintaining a powerful prejudice against white, church-going, conservative North Carolinians as racist and anti-gay. They are neither. Unlike the writer, they are inclusive, loving, and forgiving. Look at that phrase "purportedly religious folks." Sheesh. This guy has been taking our taxes and ramming his vision of life down our throats with our money for his entire career. Black people don't face prejudice in this state, they face a lack of good education due to the teachers unions, and a lack of opportunity in rural areas (as do whites in those areas).

Posted by: Jeremy Abrams | Apr 17, 2017 6:43:16 AM

"The move, of course, is nakedly ideological."

And so was the Center's creation.

Posted by: Paul Unyan | Apr 17, 2017 6:10:21 AM

Note the assumption that the center is doing important work--not a single word in this whole press release to explain why the center is actually needed.

Posted by: tim maguire | Apr 17, 2017 6:07:44 AM

Not one fact is presented which allows us to judge the dispute, the argument is limited to "right wing attacks left wing institution". Apparently the author believes this sufficient for people to know which side to support and no doubt to many it is. But since supportive facts would be powerful their absence suggests they don't exist.

Posted by: Marshal | Apr 17, 2017 5:56:00 AM

But the repeated, endless attacks on Republicans as racists, sexists, and "fascists" aren't political, are they?

Posted by: mike livingston | Apr 16, 2017 11:18:46 PM

The quote attributed to me in this column is false. I never made any such statements.

Posted by: Steven Long | Apr 16, 2017 5:16:37 PM

Right, because the highly ideological Center has some sort of supreme right to take money from taxpayers and use it for most partisan kind of activism.

Posted by: Bobby | Apr 16, 2017 1:29:23 PM

The author forgot John Edwards as one its alumni.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Apr 16, 2017 8:16:29 AM