Shed light on free speech: UNC maintains a culture conducive to speech that goes beyond the text of its policies

In a presentation at UNC’s “First Amendment Day,” Robert Shibley, senior vice president for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said that UNC is a “yellow light” school with respect to free speech.

While Shibley makes points worthy of consideration, UNC’s culture of free speech is more than words on paper — it’s the actions of students.

The FIRE website states that “a ‘yellow light’ institution has some policies that could ban or excessively regulate protected speech.”

Shibley mentioned in his presentation that UNC could improve its FIRE rating by clarifying its policies that have been classified as “yellow light” policies on the FIRE website.

One policy that received a yellow light concerned posting potentially offensive content in residence halls.
FIRE’s concern is the university is placing too much importance on the right to be free from offensive speech, and not enough on the freedom of expression.

We admire the organization’s pursuit of making speech as broadly applicable as possible. Students should be able to express themselves freely on the basis of the First Amendment. But we think that if anything, UNC’s policies tend to create environments where that expression is welcome.

We see it daily in the Pit. We see it at demonstrations and protests. Our students are active and vocal in support of causes both on the left and right. And instances when free speech has been inhibited have become teachable moments for all of us.

UNC is a school known for its tolerance of free speech. Our culture of free speech goes beyond the policies on paper. While policies can always be improved, we are proud that free speech enjoys a prominent place in campus life.

We find solidarity with FIRE’s attempt to make policies as accessible as possible. But we think that our culture, when taken with those policies, warrants us a green light for speech.

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