Faculty Forward Network members expressed their concerns to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors regarding a board policy proposal that would bar the UNC–Chapel Hill School of Law’s Center for Civil Rights from providing legal representation to people in need. In particular, this policy would limit the preparation of law students to practice civil rights law. An attack on UNC’s Center for Civil Rights will hurt the students and people the center serves, but it bears national significance, too. We cannot sit idly by while our institutions, centers and values are besieged. This is an attack on civil rights.
Before the March 3 meeting started, security asked FFN members and several journalism students from UNC–Chapel Hill to wait outside the building, which seemed counter to the BOG’s open meeting policy. Finally, FFN members were granted two seats and journalism students were granted three. The rest of the attendees were allowed to sit in the overflow room to observe the live stream. There was a police presence of about 15 armed officers.
After receiving a $90,000 performance bonus, President Margaret Spellings departed before the meeting ended. As for the public comment session, eight attendees signed up to speak, though more asked to speak in person and were denied by BOG member Jennifer Wiley who said making an exception would set a precedent for future meetings. It’s important to note that faculty and students traveled statewide to attend the BOG meeting and speak during the public comment session; prolonged delays disrupt their schedule. Indeed, several people had to leave before the public comment session convened—a full hour after the meeting adjourned.
Members of the public were given three minutes to address the BOG; eight of 32 board members attended the public comment portion. BOG members W.G. Champion Mitchell and Joan G. MacNeill walked out while Dr. Harry Phillips was speaking on student debt and free tuition. Phillips has written a letter asking for an explanation and opportunity to meet for 15 minutes to discuss their departure.
Phillips and Miriam Thompson, another FFN member, shared their comments here:
“My focus today are the often crushing conditions associated with student loan debt incurred by UNC graduates, especially as it impacts our young entrepreneurs, and what to do about it. In our state, severe tax cuts hinder investments in public universities. When adjusting for inflation, state funding has been cut by 20 percent since 2008, while tuition has increased by 36 percent during the same time period.
“How does this impact young entrepreneurs with excessive student loan debt? New York Times reporter John F. Wasik contends that, ‘Because of the corrosive impact of student debt on startups, millennials seem to be the new lost generation of entrepreneurs.’ Furthermore, ‘The share of new entrepreneurs in the 20-to34-year-old age group fell to 25 percent in 2014, from nearly 35 percent in 1996,” explains Wasik. And, ‘Even graduates who have begun promising startups have found that securing financing when carrying student loans was brutally difficult.’
“U.S. Representative for Minnesota's 5th Congressional District Keith Ellison writes in The American Prospect, ‘the cost of four-year college tuition has risen 1,122 percent since 1978.’ Now, student loans are the largest form of personal debt in America—larger than credit card debt and car loans. Rep. Ellison states, ‘Today, student loan debt increases inequality and makes it harder for low-income graduates, particularly those of color, to buy a house, open a business, and start a family.’
“Here is some perspective from abroad as to how other countries work with tuition and higher education. The following countries offer free college tuition: Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Mexico and Germany, among others.
“What can we do in our state to remove the constraints of student loan debt? We could think deeply about Tuition Free Illinois, a popular proposal that aims to provide free tuition at that state’s two- and four-year public colleges via the following tax plan: progressive taxation, financial transaction taxes, and a millionaire’s surtax of 3 percent. This idea was approved by 60 percent of Illinois voters in a 2014 nonbinding referendum.
“UNC’s Board of Governors runs over with expertise in finance. Free tuition helps everyone—our students, our local economies and our communities. I urge you to make free tuition an action item.”
“I join colleagues and neighbors in urging a full public discussion of a proposed UNC system policy change, submitted by BOG and Civitas Board member Steve Long, that would prevent academic centers like the nationally renowned Center for Civil Rights (CCR) at UNC–Chapel Hill, from filing legal claims, acting as legal counsel or representing others in complaints, lawsuits and other legal actions.
“This policy would have a devastating impact on:
- those members of our community who are unable to afford legal counsel;
- academic freedom;
- the preparation of law students to practice civil rights law; and
- the historic civil rights record since its founding in 2001 by Julius Chambers, and continued by the current CCR leader, Ted Shaw, and his remarkable staff attorneys, including school desegregation, housing discrimination, compensation for victims of forced sterilization, voter protection, environmental justice and more.
“The center is the pride of our public UNC system of teaching, research and service to the state of North Carolina to secure equity and justice for its most disenfranchised and underrepresented populations. The proposed changes have generated faculty, student and community opposition, and require a full public airing and discussion that we are certain will lead to a resounding BOG affirmation of this prized UNC and public institution.”