Jamey Falkenbury, a spokesperson for the lieutenant governor’s office, said in an email they have seen the free expression of students and speakers marginalized on university campuses through intimidation, interruption or by other means.
“Our universities should be a place where the free exchange of ideas happens, and no speech on the issues of the day should be suppressed, no matter how offensive someone else may find the speech to be,” Falkenbury said in an email.
He said the act would require a discipline policy for those who interrupt the free expression of others.
Jenna A. Robinson, president of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, said the proposal is similar to guidelines released by the UNC-system Board of Governors.
“They’re going to protect the free speech of the people who are a part of the meeting by making sure that if people want to protest, they do so in a way that doesn’t actually interrupt the meeting,” she said.
Robinson said shouting at meetings results in less speech overall.
“What you want is to maximize the number of people who are allowed to have their voices heard,” she said.
Altha Cravey, a UNC geography professor and member of Faculty Forward Network, said she thought it was absurd to protect something that is already a law.
“I think the proposal is ridiculous,” she said. “I think George Orwell would be proud of the way they twisted the language.”
Cravey said the BOG’s firing of Tom Ross and selection of Margaret Spellings demonstrates that student and faculty voices have been silenced.
“These are not decisions that a few rich people can make because the University belongs to all of us,” she said.
Jayna Fishman, a UNC sophomore and member of the BOG Democracy Coalition, said board meetings in small spaces and during school hours prevent students from participating.
“My guess is the proposal was put forward to try and intimidate us and keep us from protesting in the manner we’ve been doing,” she said.
She said the BOG Democracy Coalition will do whatever it can to be heard and that the group is not receiving the respect it deserves as part of the UNC system.
Despite the BOG’s announcement that there will be opportunities for public comment, Cravey said it is still imposing sanctions on free speech.
“They want to take over and do something different, but they also have a very narrow agenda,” she said. “And that’s why they don’t want anyone speaking back to them.”
Cravey said the proposal will not affect her choices to protest in the future.
“For me, personally, it will make my voice stronger to have these kinds of threats thrown at me.”