Is Legal Education Under Attack at North Carolina HBCUs?
Officials at North Carolina A&T State University today announced plans to consolidate its departments of political science and history, while making its criminal justice program a standalone department.
The news, which drew criticism from A&T faculty and students, comes two months after the University of North Carolina System announced that university-based law centers were prohibited from participating in pro bono litigation and counsel, effectively cutting off North Carolina Central University’s Clinical Legal Education Program from providing invaluable community legal support.
After months of controversy and widespread opposition, the UNC Board of Governors on Friday approved a ban on litigation that will prevent the UNC Center for Civil Rights from doing legal work for low-income and minority groups. The ban would apply to all UNC centers, but would effectively end the civil rights center at UNC’s law school.
When it comes to controversial decisions involving HBCU leadership and political access for HBCUs and the communities they serve, North Carolina rarely blushes. And at first sight, the changes seem to be a concerted effort to limit legal training and education to underserved populations in Durham and Greensboro.
That’s hard to prove, and even harder to suggest when considering that all of this may be a numbers game in which NCCU and A&T are players trying to make the most of long-odds shots at competitiveness.
Take NCA&T’s academic realignment for example. We know that History is a targeted degree program at institutions across the country because of low enrollment and unclear ties to post-graduate career success. Never mind that Florida A&M history grad Ibram Kendi is the reigning National Book Awards winner for nonfiction, or that Fisk University history grad Crystal deGregory now directs an HBCU research center on race, education and democracy; most graduates leaving college with a history degree face an uphill climb for career mobility and earnings.
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Statistics from A&T bear out the declining interest in these programs. Between 2010 and 2014, A&T enrolled a nominal amount of undergraduates in political science and history.
2014 – 86
2013 – 92
2012 – 70
2011 – 90
2010 – 118
2014 – 39
2013 – 35
2012 – 52
2011 – 64
2010 – 63
That’s 709 students enrolled in five years. In comparison, A&T engineering programs enrolled 722 students between Fall 2013 and Fall 2014 alone. Add that to the changing culture around what graduates can do with a law degree, and it makes sense that the state and its campuses are assessing what will work best next year and in the years to follow.
This is part of an occasional series: Is My Job Safe? These stories look at jobs that might be at risk because of technology and automation. Shannon Capone Kirk’s first job as a young lawyer in the late ’90s was “document review.”
And let’s not forget that A&T, NCCU and every other state school is on the hook to meet certain access and achievement benchmarks as set by the state and agreed upon by school leaders. These metrics, billed as professional pathways for poor and underrepresented students, shape the way campuses assess degree appeal and programmatic value.
So the nation’s largest HBCU melds two programs, its in-state rival forfeits an invaluable training hub for minority attorneys, and the UNC System rolls on under the banner of fiscal conservatism and its crusade for public higher education to be anything but liberal.
The indoctrination is probably unnecessary. After all, studies show that today’s high school graduates – especially those who listened well, earned the best grades and gained admissions to top schools – are more likely to identify themselves as “liberal” or “far-left” than at any time since the early 1970s.
A sociopolitical conspiracy theory is easy to develop in North Carolina, and in so many ways, educational and political leaders there desrve that kind of scrutiny. But right now, campus data makes it difficult for one to thrive on the topic of law education.