UNC’s free speech policy ratings have gone from bad to worse, marking the University as among the most suppressive studied.
Robert Shibley, senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, delivered a lecture on free speech rights to commemorate Constitution Day. The speech was hosted by UNC Young Americans for Liberty.
Shibley said UNC is labeled a “red light” university by FIRE, which rates universities’ levels of free speech protection.
In 2010, UNC received a “yellow light” rating from FIRE.
FIRE defines a “red light” school as one that has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.
“Administrators want free speech advocates to feel alone on campus,” Shibley said.
“You are not. America is with you.”
FIRE reports that of the 400 major universities it reviews, 65 percent are “red light” schools and 29 percent are “yellow light” schools.
Shibley said that UNC’s Community Living Standards policy has broad definitions that may extensively limit students speech.
The policy states that it is a student’s responsibility to “avoid using the written or spoken word in a way that demeans, defames, offends, slanders or discriminates.”
Shibley said the policy puts the definition of what is considered offensive in the hands of the listener rather than the speaker.
He said UNC intentionally makes certain policies vague so it can deal with complaints with more authority.
“When you have rules this broad, you’re going to be violating them whether you try to or not,” Shibley said.
Jenna Robinson, campus outreach coordinator for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, said UNC housing prohibits offensive language, which places a burden on speech.
“We hope that everyone can get along, but allowing freedom of speech is more important than not stepping on any toes,” she said.
Shibley said sexual harassment is another common policy area that restricts freedom of speech.
Of the 12 examples of sexual harassment found in UNC policy, Shibley said that seven of the examples would not hold up as true harassment in a court of law.
One lists one-time incidents of whistling, ogling, barking or leering as an example of harassment, a claim that Shibley refutes.
“(Ogling) may not be pleasant, but it doesn’t mean you’ve been sexually harassed,” Shibley said.
“True harassment is nearly always a pattern of behavior — no list of examples can ever be comprehensive enough,” he said.
Sophomore Kevin Martin, events coordinator for UNC Young Americans for Liberty, said he was surprised by how hidden free speech restrictions are in UNC policies.
“Although some of our speech codes seem unimportant and ridiculous, it’s imperative that as students we step up and insure that our First Amendment rights are once again protected as they should always be,” Martin said.
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