A Board of Governors committee began drafting a policy that would allow the expulsion of students who repeatedly disrupt freedom of speech or expression on campus.
The policy — similar to a resolution passed by the University of Wisconsin's Board of Regents — was called for by a N.C. General Assembly bill ratified in June.
The bill aims to "restore and preserve free speech" by having the University system create a uniform process for punishing any student, staff or faculty member who "substantially disrupts the functioning of the constituent institution or substantially interferes with the protected free expression rights of others, including protests and demonstrations that infringe upon the rights of others to engage in and listen to expressive activity when the expressive activity has been scheduled pursuant to this policy or is located in a nonpublic forum."
The University of Wisconsin's policy allows the university to suspend students after two incidents of disruption. A third offense would lead to expulsion.
The bill comes after protests and violence at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Virginia.
The Subcommittee on Free Expression Policy within the Board of Governors Committee on University Governance met Wednesday to discuss the drafted policy.
The first draft asserts that any student or employee is "subject to disciplinary action ranging from counseling, warnings, suspensions and dismissals or expulsions" if they "engage in misconduct."
Board of Governors member William Webb, a former magistrate judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina, said a first offense resulting in a written warning was too lenient.
"That’s just not how things worked in my world when I was growing up,” Webb said. “You didn’t get a slap on the wrist for something as egregious to me as the predicate of the punishment.”
The policy must feature "statements of commitment to First Amendment and Intellectual Freedom," according to the bill. The statement must include "that it is not the proper role of any constituent institution to shield individuals from speech protected by the First Amendment, including, without limitation, ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive."
Subcommittee members said protests — even protests where people stand on tables and yell obscenities at BOG members — may be protected speech. They said actual violence or threats that shut down anyone's ability to exercise their speech rights on a public campus should result in serious sanctions, or arrest when applicable.
“You can’t assert your free expression rights as a shield or a sword against others’ rights,” Webb said.
Webb wrote a letter to the editor in the News & Observer in September condemning Silent Sam. He supported Chancellor Carol Folt's leadership and said neither she nor the University can take down the statue because of the 2015 state law that prohibits state-owned monuments from being taken down.
"Despite Chancellor Folt’s strong personal denunciations of the sentiments represented by Silent Sam and her exemplary record related to civil rights issues, she was unfairly attacked for failing to do what state law prohibits and unilaterally remove the statue," he wrote.
At Wednesday's meeting, Webb said protesting Silent Sam should be allowed, but pulling it down — as protesters did in Durham in August — should result in punishment.
“The nice thing about America is we’ve all agreed to put up with a little disruption, a little interference, a little everything so we can do it when it’s our turn."
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