Former N.C. State University resident adviser Derek Spicer knew something was wrong when the university imposed a new civility policy for students living on campus last year.
Spicer said he was concerned that the policy, which stated that students must speak civilly and refrain from displaying items that could be disrespectful or harmful to others, might infringe upon students’ free speech rights.
“The policy itself was just so vague,” said Spicer, a 2012 graduate who now registers voters for the state Republican party. “I asked the director of housing what his opinion on it was and had a conversation with my community adviser.”
But after NCSU officials failed to act on Spicer’s concerns, he decided to take his case to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a national non-profit organization dedicated to preserving rights such as free expression on campuses.
The foundation’s senior vice president, Robert Shibley, sent a letter to NCSU Chancellor Randy Woodson about the policy — but only received a two-line response.
A single paragraph was added to the policy a few weeks ago, noting adherence was voluntary.
“N.C. State seemed like they just wanted to save face,” Shibley said.
Other schools in the UNC system also have questionable policies, according to the foundation, which rates universities’ speech codes.
Of the 16 UNC-system universities, seven, including UNC Chapel Hill, have a rating of red — meaning they have the most stringent speech restrictions.
UNC-CH’s community living standards are similar to NCSU’s policy in urging students to refrain from offensive or discriminatory speech.
Shibley will give a talk Monday for UNC-CH’s Young Americans for Liberty group. He said he’ll discuss why the University’s speech code is flawed and how administrators can better protect speech.
UNC-CH constitutional law expert Gene Nichol said NCSU was wise to make the policy voluntary, even though it had good intentions to care for students: “Mandatory speech regulations aren’t the way to do that.”
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