Board questions role of UNC's civil rights center

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The UNC Civil Rights Center cannot litigate any new civil rights cases for now.

The UNC Center for Civil Rights was founded in 2001 to primarily help litigate civil rights issues.

But some UNC System Board of Governor members think it should just focus on research.

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The decision is so complicated that the Board tabled the discussion -- with one condition.

Effective immediately, the UNC Center for Civil Rights cannot litigate any new civil rights cases until the board can decide how the center will operate.

Law students are disappointed.

"It feels terrible," said Hillary Ly, a third-year law student. "Absolutely horrible to tell someone of low means that we can't help them because of these blocks."

"Working with the center gives us the practical experience that we need in order to represent the communities that most need to be served," said Quisha Mallette, a third-year law student serving at the Center.

The decision came Thursday following a proposal addressed during a committee meeting.

Board member Steve Long said students shouldn't be litigating counties, cities and towns. Long said it's too costly, and told the Board one of the Center's cases cost Brunswick County nearly $1 million in legal fees.

"I think that's outside of the university's mission." Long said. "We should be advising cities and counties. If they are doing something wrong, we need to tell them about it. We should not be suing them."

Mark Dorosin, managing lawyer at the Center disagrees.

"Any city and county can avoid the cost by stopping the discriminating activities that they are engaged in," Dorosin said.

Dorosin says the Center sued Brunswick County for trying to put a landfill in a poor neighborhood.

"Now thanks to the work of the community and the center, they are getting a new elementary school instead of a solid waste landfill," he said.

Some of the BOG members agreed with the idea of limiting some of the center's litigation power.

Other BOG committee members had questions about how the change could impact the Center's competitiveness with other schools.

The committee decided to have the UNC's Chancellor pull together a report explaining the impact this could have but also provide alternative solutions for the BOG to consider.

The report will also include public comments.

The BOG expects to review and vote on the matter in July.

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