RACE TO THE BOTTOM: September 8, 2017, and the UNC Board of Governors Makes Its Bid

The University of North Carolina has a School of Law. Like virtually every law school, it operates legal clinics where law students, under the direct supervision of professors and attorneys, engage in litigation on behalf of various populations. These include those in need of public (criminal) defense, those needing help with landlord-tenant issues, victims of domestic violence, children, and others. These clinics help in preparing law students to more deeply (and professionally) develop their practices in these key areas of law. So far, so good.

The UNC School of Law has a Civil Rights clinic. By its very nature, a Civil Rights clinic trains law students in protecting citizens whose civil rights have been violated by, among others, corporate employers and governmental actors (from police to state and federal agencies and beyond). So far, so good.

On Friday, September 8, 2017, the UNC Board of Governors voted to BAN the Law School’s Center for Civil Rights from litigating ANY cases. Not so good.

The justification by these Governors voting (24 in favor, 3 against, 1 abstention) to ban such litigation? If the Center were permitted to sue state actors, this would directly conflict with UNC’s “academic mission.” Now, mind you, many other public law schools–including the University of Virginia, the University of Texas, the University of Michigan, and the University of California–have similar civil rights clinics and find no such conflict with their universities’ academic mission.

What IS UNC’s academic mission? According to its website, part of the University’s core mission includes these assertions:

We also extend knowledge-based services and other resources of the University to the citizens of North Carolina and their institutions to enhance the quality of life for all people in the State.

With lux, libertas — light and liberty — as its founding principles, the University has charted a bold course of leading change to improve society and to help solve the world’s greatest problems.

So…could it be that any of the individual Governors might find themselves in the crosshairs of civil rights litigation if the Law School’s Center is allowed to pursue litigation? Otherwise, it seems as though there are no conflicts: civil rights for North Carolinians would enhance the quality of life and improve society, unless of course you are among the violators.

This is a link to UNC’s current Board of Governors. On that page, if you hit the little magnifying-glass icon by each Governor, you can see the corporate and governmental positions previously and currently held by each. For example, the current Chairman, W. Louis Bissette, Jr., has been a mayor, a Chamber of Commerce president, and the Chair of WCI, Inc., which also has a mission

For more than 50 years, WCI has been fulfilling its role of helping organizations deal with business threats, whether in the form of third party interference, internal dysfunction, or stifling legislation. In today’s challenging economy, WCI continues to mitigate the risk of labor unrest, while prioritizing the newest risk:  healthcare costs. Our commitment to our members is to continue our leadership on these and other fronts. [N.B.: The words “business threats” are in bold on the website.]

For its brazen cravenness (how’s that for an oxymoron?!), the UNC’s Board of Governors has claimed its rightful #1 spot in the Race to the Bottom.

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