On the UNC-Chapel Hill Center for Civil Rights

In this post, I do not speak for the Gillings School or for UNC-Chapel Hill.

Questions about the roles, rights and responsibilities of the Center for Civil Rights (CCR)

Civil rights leader Julius L. Chambers (1936-2013), who graduated first in his class from the UNC School of Law in 1962, was the first director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights. Photo courtesy of UNC Center for Civil Rights.

Over the past several months, students and others have asked me, on several occasions, to comment about the impact of a UNC Board of Governors policy upon the UNC School of Law’s Center for Civil Rights. The proposed policy would ban litigation activities by UNC centers and institutes against any individual, entity or government and would eliminate centers’ and institutes’ ability to employ or engage any individual to serve as legal counsel or representative.

Recently, I was asked to sign a petition to the Board of Governors, supported now by 165 people associated with the Gillings School, many of them students. The signatories ask the board “to closely evaluate the unintended consequences of their broad policy.” (The statement in the petition is included at the end of this post.) The petition’s message caused me to think further about whether the policy could have a particularly detrimental effect on the Center for Civil Rights – and if so, whether that would be an issue relevant to our School and whether the ultimate outcome potentially could harm North Carolinians. I concluded yes on all counts.

I recognize and respect the responsibility of the University’s Board of Governors to govern the UNC system and make policy decisions. I did not want it construed that I was speaking for the Gillings School on the issues and, therefore, did not sign the petition. However, as a leader committed to overcoming health and other inequities, I want to comment about the UNC Center for Civil Rights. In doing so, I hope to contribute constructively, respectfully and civilly to the discussion and add my voice to those far more learned about the issues. After all, these are important concerns, and we should bring our different voices to the table in a thoughtful way that is reflective of what this country has been and should continue to be. One of those voices belongs to Martin Brinkley, JD, dean of the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law.

According to Dean Brinkley’s March 25 statement on the proposal to terminate the ability of the UNC Center for Civil Rights to bring litigation, the threefold mission of the Center includes the following:

  • Creation and sponsorship of cutting-edge research and scholarship on contemporary issues of civil rights;
  • Education and training of law students who aspire to become a new generation of civil rights attorneys, advocates and scholars; and
  • Provision of outreach and direct assistance to racially disadvantaged and lower-income individuals and communities within both the State of North Carolina and the Southeast, not only as a public service to these communities — to build their capacity to remove unjust racial and economic barriers — but also as a clinical training ground for aspiring civil rights lawyers and as a prism through which to examine and develop, in the field, effective new and sustainable programs to reduce racial and economic inequality.

As the top-ranked UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, our mission is to improve public health, promote individual well-being and eliminate health inequities across North Carolina and around the world. We bring about sustainable, positive changes in health by providing an outstanding program of collaborative teaching, research and service to:

  • Educate the next generation of public health leaders;
  • Discover, test, disseminate and implement solutions to health threats and problems;
  • Translate research into effective practices and sound policies; and
  • Serve North Carolina and beyond through outreach, engagement, education of citizens and health professionals and application of solutions to health threats and problems.
Complementarity between the missions of the UNC Center for Civil Rights and the Gillings School and other professional schools

Hold us to the highest standards of our professions, and recognize that, in paying special attention to the underserved, we help to make all of North Carolina safer, healthier, wealthier, more competitive and more just. Doing so speaks to the best of our past and is the best hope for the future.

There is complementarity between the Gillings School’s mission and that of the UNC Center for Civil Rights. Along with other professional schools, we train students in the classroom and by placing them in real-world situations under the supervision of experienced professionals. This is how we prepare students for jobs, an area in which we have a stellar track record. Our accreditation standards also require practice experience. Practice is a big part of what we prepare students to do, and service learning, practica and internships, all supervised, are among the ways we do this.

While we are committed to improving health for all North Carolinians, we focus especially on those who, for a variety of reasons, have been underserved. We share that commitment with the Center for Civil Rights. In seeking to better the health and lives of those who are most vulnerable, all North Carolinians benefit. Poor health, among other things, is a deterrent to business investment, and it adds to the total health expenditures for the state. In training students to practice effectively, we and other professional schools provide North Carolinians with access to good practitioners, regardless of their professions. That strengthens our people and our state.

The majority of all our graduates remain in North Carolina. If the training mission of the Center for Civil Rights were placed at risk because of litigation limits, ours and others’ training missions could be at risk in the future. North Carolina needs the graduates of its accredited professional schools. To do that, we must train them in the art and science of strong, evidence-based practice.

In conclusion

This University needs its Center for Civil Rights, the Gillings School and all the professional and other schools and units across the UNC system that train students to serve North Carolina with excellence and humanity. This work is good and important for the state. Service-learning and practice opportunities provided by the Center for Civil Rights, professional schools and others across UNC system’s campuses are integral to delivering effective education and are mandated by an increasing number of accreditors, including those for public health. Hold us to the highest standards of our professions, and recognize that, in paying special attention to the underserved, we help to make all of North Carolina safer, healthier, wealthier, more competitive and more just. Doing so speaks to the best of our past and is the best hope for the future.

Note: The Center for Civil Rights web page has information about the upcoming July 14 UNC BOG meeting in Asheville and the Committee on Educational Planning, Policies, and Programs’ vote on the proposed policy. 


Statement about the UNC Center for Civil Rights from individuals associated with the Gillings School
Sent: Monday, May 15, 2017
Subject:
We support the UNC Center for Civil Rights and ask you to do the same

Dear Dean Rimer,

We, students, faculty, staff, alumni, and affiliates of UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health, have come together to support the UNC Center for Civil Rights.

Over 200 Centers and Institutes will be directly impacted by this proposal. A dangerous precedent, the proposal potentially undermines the experiential education opportunities provided throughout the UNC system for current and future students. We have achieved our status as the #1 public school of public health in part through our emphasis on service learning.

The mission of the SPH is “to improve public health, promote individual well-being and eliminate health inequities across North Carolina and around the world.” This includes generating research that informs policy or intervention. Litigation/legal advocacy is one avenue through which public health research is translated into action. The Center for Civil Rights has utilized research conducted by the SPH to initiate positive change in North Carolina. The critical collaboration with the Center for Civil Rights enables us to fulfill our SPH mission through advancement of public health for marginalized communities who might not otherwise have access to support.

Some (of many) Center for Civil Rights Cases Relevant to Public Health:

ROCCA et al. v. Brunswick County: Preventing construction of an industrial waste site that would disproportionately impact African-American communities in Brunswick County

In re: Redmond, In re: Hughes, In re: Smith: Securing reparations for victims of the NC eugenics program (active 1929–73)

Johnson v. Fleming: Preventing racial discrimination in access to housing in Moore County

Habitat for Humanity v. Upchurch et al.: Supporting equitable housing development in Pine Bluff

Everett et al. v. Pitt County Board of Education: Supporting the integration of schools in Pitt County

Collaboration with the Center for Civil Rights is integral to our work at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, but this proposal directly impacts all Centers and Institutes across the UNC system. We ask that the Board of Governors closely evaluate the potential unintended consequences of this broad policy.
Signed,

104 Undergraduate students, graduate students, and Postdocs; 22 Faculty and Staff; 12 Alumni and Affiliates
May 15, 2017

[Signatures added after this email was sent may be seen here. As of today, July 7, the number of signatures is up to 165.]

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