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Faculty Executive Committee discusses new free speech policy for campus


The Faculty Executive Committee met on Oct. 9. 

The Faculty Executive Committee met Monday afternoon to discuss the possibility of adopting a free speech policy based on that of the University of Chicago. 

Known as the “Chicago principles,” the free speech policy is a set of principles put forth by the University of Chicago. The Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago published a report in order to express the university’s commitment to freedom of speech. 

Similar reports and policies have been adopted at other universities following the action taken by the University of Chicago, but it was brought to the attention of Leslie Parise, chair of the faculty, on the committee, by members of UNC's faculty and students. Monday’s meeting of the committee addressed the possibility of UNC adopting a set of similar principles. 

One of the main concerns with this proposal was the issue of how it would, or could, be politicized within the North Carolina General Assembly. While members of the committee expressed concern for the feelings of both sides, the committee was simultaneously working to view the policies and principles without politicizing them. This was especially a concern for Mimi Chapman, an associate professor in UNC's School of Social Work. 

“When there is worry that it has become politicized, then what do you do with it?” Chapman said. “Do you say that it is bad because it has become politicized or do you look at what it actually is? And I don’t know the answer to that. I think what we were trying to do as a group was to sort of say ‘Let’s look at this in its purest form first, understand it from its source, from Chicago.’” 

The committee focused on politicization in order to look beyond the principles themselves, and into how it would impact the greater community. Secretary of the Faculty Vin Steponaitis said he hopes these policies can be viewed without being partisan, so that everyone who reads it can do so without feeling left out. 

“In a different time, this would have been a kind of slam dunk, but things have become so politicized that almost on anything, including what might be a slam dunk, everybody feels like they have to take sides, which makes the wordsmithing part that much harder,” Stenponaitis said. “Whatever this thing ends up being, in an ideal world, I think a progressive should be able to read it and find it a reasonable statement, and a conservative should be able to read it and find it a reasonable statement. We shouldn’t be trying to tilt it in one way or the other way.” 

The University of Chicago's policies on free speech concern many members of the committee. How these policies reflect the University and its beliefs are what brought it to the attention of the committee in the first place. 

“I think we ended up embracing those principles in part, because we thought we shared them,” said UNC Law School professor Michael Gerhardt. “Those are very important principles, not because they came from the University of Chicago, but because we think they’re important to academic freedom and to the enterprise that we’re all a part of.”