CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — A campus that protects a statue honoring white supremacy in the Civil War should balance that support by continuing to train law students who will fight social injustice, the head of the school’s Center for Civil Rights told a panel Thursday.
Ted Shaw, director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights, was one of several people representing the center and law clinics at N.C. Central University who defended the institutions against a proposal to strip them of their ability to file lawsuits.
UNC-Chapel Hill still maintains the statute known as “Silent Sam,” which honors students who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
“Maybe in the scheme of things I could find some balance in the Carolina universe in which the university has not been able to find a way to remove Silent Sam … if at the same time it has found a way to harbor as part of its educational mission, the training of new generations of civil rights lawyers to right the legacy of white supremacy,” Shaw told several members of the Board of Governors.
Conservative members of the board, which oversees the 16-campus system, have proposed that centers be banned from representing clients in court. Supporters of the ban say such lawsuits aren’t in line with the school’s educational mission and that a public university shouldn’t sue governmental entities.
The Center for Civil Rights was founded in 2001 by noted civil rights attorney Julius Chambers, an African-American whose home, office and car were bombed as he pursued school desegregation cases in the 1960s and 1970s. It has taken on cases involving school segregation, equal education rights and a landfill in a poor community.
The board members and university officials listened to the comments and didn’t respond to any. Anna Nelson, chair of the panel that will consider the ban, said the committee will discuss a timeline for any action when it meets next week.
Representatives of the law school at N.C. Central University in Durham, a historically black school, said the proposal would prevent them from operating several of their clinics, including one that helps veterans. That work requires the clinic to sometimes take the Veterans Administration to court, school officials said.
In addition to representatives of the two schools, more than 20 other people who had registered in advance spoke at the meeting, all against the ban. None spoke in favor of it.
The center was an ally for a group called the Coalition for Education and Economic Security in Halifax, said group representative Rebecca Copeland.
“The message that you are sending is that without wealth that you don’t deserve to be represented,” Copeland said. “We will not accept that in Halifax County. This is a political agenda. It’s a political agenda that serves nobody but the wealthy.”
Board member Joe Knott, who supports the ban, declined after the meeting to discuss any specific comments.
The university “is of infinite value to every citizen in the state,” he said. “And we must zealously guard its academic mission. It’s a great school, a great system, but it can’t do everything. We need to be sure that the first priority, the academic mission, is protected.”
Follow Martha Waggoner on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc