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Saturday April 1st

BOG-approved free speech policy could lead to student expulsion

<p>Students silently protest for Silent Sam's removal during the 2017 University Day Speech in Memorial Hall.</p>
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Students silently protest for Silent Sam's removal during the 2017 University Day Speech in Memorial Hall.

UNC system students and faculty can now be punished for "substantially (disrupting) the functioning of the constituent institution or substantially (interfering) with the protected free expression rights of others."

The UNC system Board of Governors passed the free speech policy on Dec. 15 for its 17 campuses. Individual campuses are allowed to implement sanctions "up to and including dismissal or expulsion." 

The policy outlines minimal punishments for repeat offenders, but says campuses can impose different punishments if needed. The policy suggests suspension for second offenses and expulsion for third offenses. 

The policy was approved by the full board without discussion and does not differ greatly from the policy approved by a board committee in November 2017.

The UNC system was required to adopt the policy after the N.C. General Assembly passed a law in June 2017 "to restore and preserve free speech" on UNC campuses.

The UNC Faculty Assembly outlined their concerns in a policy draft from Oct. 16, 2017. The assembly advocated for campus control over sanctions. 

The UNC Association of Student Governments, the UNC Staff Assembly and the Faculty Assembly all had input on the policy. 

The North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said in a Dec. 15 statement that the group is concerned the policy could "chill First Amendment rights" because "the language does not narrowly define what type of behavior will be considered disruptive." 

In a November 2017 letter to the board, Susanna Birdsong, policy counsel for the N.C. ACLU, said the First Amendment protects both the right of controversial figures to speak on public campuses and the right of others to peacefully protest those speakers.

“Because of its overly broad language, UNC’s policy runs the risk of punishing people for constitutionally protected activities – an ironic outcome for a policy supposedly designed to protect free speech and free expression. Rather than restricting free speech, the UNC Board of Governors should foster an environment where all voices are heard and competing viewpoints can be aired without fear of punishment or expulsion.”

The North Carolina conference of the Association of American University Professors also opposed the policy. An AAUP petition opposing the policy got 466 signatures


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