Last month, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education released its list of the 10 worst universities for free speech — and UNC-CH and Appalachian State University both made the list.
FIRE is a nonprofit organization that issues reports on U.S. university policies or actions that affect First Amendment rights. Universities are rated on a scale of “red light” to “green light,” depending on the number of policies that FIRE believes hinder free speech.
UNC-CH currently has a “yellow light” rating, which FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley said is one policy away from a green light. The policy in question requires administrative approval before posting posters in residence halls.
“We’d love to work with Chapel Hill to get rid of this last problematic policy,” Shibley said. “UNC is so close to a green light, it would be great to get ’em there.”
David Ardia, a professor at the UNC School of Law who studies freedom of speech, said UNC-CH has a tradition of supporting freedom of speech, and FIRE plays an important role in keeping university policies in line with First Amendment rights.
“FIRE is consistently in the forefront of shining a bright light on those universities in our society that are restrictive of speech,” he said.
FIRE pointed to the Landen Gambill case as a blight against freedom of speech. Gambill, who brought a sexual assault case to UNC-CH’s student-run Honor Court in spring 2012, was later charged with an Honor Court violation alleging that she intimidated the man she accused of raping her. Gambill claimed the charge was retaliatory.
Although the charge was dropped, FIRE found the case troubling.
“It’s not just that case, but the fact that UNC was warned about the problematic nature of the policy and ignored FIRE’s warning,” Shibley said.
Appalachian State University has five free speech policies that FIRE deems problematic.
FIRE focused on the Jammie Price case, in which Price, an ASU sociology professor, was accused of making racist statements as well as showing a documentary that showed pornography. Price was given an ultimatum of going through a two-year professional development plan or losing her job. Price chose to leave ASU.
While there are no green light schools in North Carolina, several have green light policies. N.C. State University was recently highlighted by FIRE for changing the civility policy, which encourages students to behave in a civil manner towards each other, in its housing contract from involuntary to voluntary. Mick Kulikowski, a spokesman for N.C. State, said FIRE worked with the university.
For any university, freedom of speech is an issue that Shibley and Ardia agree is important to address.
“You have to be constantly vigilant,” Ardia said. “Speech is something that needs to be nurtured continuously.”
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