We need more walls.
That's what I’ve concluded after reading that the University removed political banners from Peabody Hall last week. That case — wherein politically charged banners were taken down only a few hours after they were put up by a group of education graduate students — was not the first time this academic year where some types of speech on campus came into conflict with University priorities. In August, the University removed banners from the front of the Campus Y building, and the UNC Department of Public Safety took down signs from around Silent Sam.
The friction of all these banners coming up and going down produces more polarizing heat, which is a problem in an already scorched campus (and national) political environment. And one that seems likely to continue to some degree as long as UNC remains public property.
Why that qualification? Because at a public university, anyone should have a constitutional right to free speech. And as a public university, the UNC administration has a good incentive to limit some of that speech. Anything that could make the University's overall political orientation look even more left-shifted than it already does threatens to alienate the many conservative taxpayers, elected officials and donors who are crucial to advancing UNC’s educational mission.
My Bigger Ideological Point here is that the type of conflict exemplified by these banner wars often arises around public property in a democracy. The reason is simple: many parties compete in a space where it is unclear who has a right to do what.