*This letter is addressed to the UNC Board of Governors from Elizabeth Adkins, UNC-CH Student Body President
Board of Governors,
My name is Elizabeth Adkins and I am the Student Body President of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As Student Body President, I am charged with the responsibility of standing up and speaking out on behalf of my institution, its many facilities, and the individuals that exist within it when such a need arises. Recently, this Board has produced such a need by threatening to dismantle aspects of the UNC Civil Rights Center, thereby crippling one of Carolina’s most prestigious graduate schools. In response, I and other state leaders have no choice but to publicly condemn the efforts made by this Board and demand that any measure which would harm or limit the University of North Carolina be taken off the table.
While reading through the proposition, I found a number of concerning elements that I believe hinder the University of North Carolina and the students that operate therein. Primarily, I believe that this proposition will limit the legal education of our students at UNC-Chapel Hill. It will do so by denying our law school instructional autonomy and by denying our students a comprehensive education, should they pursue the civil rights field of law. By dismantling the Center for Civil Rights, this Board is demanding that professors teach a certain way, advocate a certain way, and advise a certain way, removing instructional power from the experienced educators and into the hands of government bureaucracy. Additionally, this Board’s proposition will cripple the education of legal students by denying them the ability to gain the kind of real-world experiences that have allowed Carolina Law graduates to be some of the best in their respective fields.
Secondly, in addition to limiting legal education, this proposition would damage Carolina’s Law School by tainting its national reputation and thereby lessening its applicant pool. When law students are considering which institution to attend, part of that consideration is which school best equips them to excel in their prospective practice areas. As outlined above, this Board’s proposition will demonstrate to these potential students that Carolina is not the place to come for a well-rounded, comprehensive education should they desire to pursue civil rights law. Additionally, the Board’s proposition would send a message to every applicant, independent of their desired field of study, that this university system does not support innovative and experiential learning endeavors, but rather limits a student’s educational opportunities. With that message being widely displayed, Carolina will not only lose the great civil rights lawyers of tomorrow, it will lose them all. When taken together, it is easy to see that the proposition will limit Carolina’s law school, its success at producing career-ready attorneys, and its ability to attract promising legal talent.
Outside of Carolina’s Law School, I believe this proposition does further harm by establishing a dangerous precedent in which this Board is able to regulate and restrict academic freedom. The University of North Carolina has had a long and storied history of scholarly success. From ground breaking discoveries, to Nobel Prize winners, to great national projects, our system has been able to reach seemingly unattainable heights in nearly every academic field. This success can be partially attributed to the academic freedoms enjoyed by our system’s professors, faculty, and students. However, this board’s proposition seeks to hinder such freedom by attempting to dictate what may be taught, how it may be taught, and through which means students can advance with their education. This is not the model that led to this system’s success, but rather it is one we should be very weary of. Today it is limits on the Civil Rights Center but with such a precedent what is to stop future boards from dictating that medical centers can no longer perform certain procedures? Or that the history departments can only publish certain volumes of work? Academic freedom is what this system was built on, it is what provided for its great success, and it is what will sustain it for the years to come, and thus voting down this resolution is not just vital for Carolina Law, it is vital for the entire university system and its future.
In conclusion, I stand in full support of the UNC Center for Civil Rights, believing that it provides this state and its people with a valuable and much needed service. Such being the case, I ask that this Board reject any proposal that would stifle the ability of the Center and instead urge you to protect our legal students, our disadvantaged North Carolinians, and our state’s reputation.
Elizabeth Adkins, Student Body President, UNC-Chapel Hill