Historically, college students have been staunch supporters of First Amendment rights. However, with politically correct dogma reigning over most institutions of higher education today, students’ views on free speech have been changing. Calls to create “safe spaces” on campus, where free speech would be limited, are being proposed all over the country. North Carolina is seeking to combat this growing attack on free speech by considering a bill that would protect the right of free speech on University of North Carolina (UNC) campuses.
“A bill designed to restore and protect free speech to the University of North Carolina System is very likely going to be introduced in the General Assembly next month,” said Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Policy Center in Washington, DC. Kurtz has been working with North Carolina Lt. Governor Dan Forest on a bill called, the Campus Free Expression Act. Kurtz added,
“To my knowledge, it will be the most comprehensive and ambitious effort ever undertaken to protect and defend free expression at any American college or university, public or private.”
If passed, the law would require UNC’s Board of Governors to create a campus-wide policy that, “unmistakably affirms the value of free expression,” according to Kurtz. The bill would also prohibit faculty members, students, and anyone else associated with UNC from interfering with others exercising their right to free speech on campus. “That means no more shouting down a visiting speaker, and no more obstruction of legitimate meetings and events,” Kurtz said.
In the proposed legislation, a committee would be created within the UNC Board of Governors and delegated with the task of creating the new free speech guidelines and policies. Additionally, the committee will be tasked with creating a range of disciplinary actions for those who interfere with free expression on campus, including suspension and expulsion. “In effect, this new statement will supersede, and nullify, any restrictive speech code adopted by any constituent school of the UNC system,” Kurtz stated. The committee would also work to put out an annual report on the status of free speech at UNC campuses.
In addition to protecting students from violations of free speech rights on campus, Kurtz is also concerned with students being exposed to only one point of view during their college education. For many young Americans, the college experience is a time when they are forming the political and social views that will shape their beliefs for years to come. It is expected that students are being exposed to a variety of intellectual thoughts and opinions from which they will draw their conclusions about the world. However, between administrative bans on free speech and required reading that all seem to reflect a certain worldview, students may not be getting the well-rounded education that they had hoped for.
Citing a study released by the National Association of Scholars, Kurtz spoke about freshman reading assignments saying that the readings, “all too often amount to a kind of straightforward political advocacy for progressive social causes.” Kurtz believes this issue can be combated by including information about the new free speech guidelines during freshman orientation. He also believes that new policy guidance regarding reading material commonly assigned to freshman should be issued and explained to incoming students. Kurtz went on to say,
“The statement will make it clear that it is not the proper role of the university to seal individuals from ideas … that they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even offensive.”
Additionally, the bill seeks to protect students and faculty members who may disagree with the institution’s stance on a given issue. In the past, when institutions have taken a firm stance on controversial issues, like foreign policy and healthcare, faculty and students who disagreed with the school’s official stance found themselves at odds with the administration or became targets if they tried to speak out. Believing that this is an essential component to protecting free expression on UNC campuses, the bill also requires that the Board of Governors issue a statement that, “defines and defends the policy of institutional neutrality on the issues of the day.”
North Carolina is not the first state to propose Campus Free Expression Act, which is a good sign as to where this country is heading in terms of protecting free speech on college campuses. Two years ago, Virginia passed a similar bill and Missouri followed suit, passing free expression legislation last year. If the North Carolina bill passes, other colleges and universities may follow UNC’s lead making sure that all ideas and speech are protected on campuses across the nation.