The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Guskiewicz introduces new Committee for Academic Freedom and Free Expression

Wilson Library is pictured on Sept. 9, 2022.

The new Committee on Academic Freedom and Free Expression was formally charged by Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz on Monday, Jan. 30.

“This committee will advise the chancellor on ways to advance academic freedom and articulate free speech norms and best practices for the Carolina community,” a University spokesperson said in a statement. “The committee will determine the frequency with which they meet.” 

What is it?

Vice Provost for Communication and the Committee’s Chairperson Christian Lundberg said the group will first look at the current state of academic freedom and free expression on campus. It will then begin to define “norms” and “best practices” to make recommendations on the areas in which the University can improve. 

“I couldn't imagine a better time where it's important for us to speak with a clear voice about how important academic freedom is and how important free expression is,” he said.

Lundberg also said the creation of the committee was largely inspired by a faculty meeting last year centrally focused on the climate for free expression among faculty, as well as the University’s emphasis on democracy in a new strategic initiative.

Members of the committee were invited to represent different communities and viewpoints on campus. Members include UNC professors, first amendment officers, student representatives, alumni and administrators. 

“We want to make sure that the whole of the community — or at least the broadest possible representation of the community that we can have — is representative,” Lundberg said.  “Because we feel like everybody has a stake in making sure that academic freedom is robust and protected.”

Committee Member Perspectives 

At their first meeting on Jan. 30, Lundberg said the chancellor expressed his support of the committee and charged them to give a “rigorous” and “unvarnished” take on the importance and improvement of academic freedom and free speech at the University. 

The issues of academic freedom and free speech are “different but overlapping values,” Lundberg said, and it is "dangerous to conflate the two."

In his opinion, the First Amendment's right to free speech is “even more robust at a public university” than in any other setting.  

Lloyd Kramer, a member of the committee and history professor at UNC, said academic freedom allows students and faculty to pursue knowledge without interference. Kramer also noted this tradition allows the faculty to use their expertise to develop their own curriculum. 

“That is a freedom that should not be suspended or interrupted by outside intervention,” he said. 

Kramer said this does not mean that faculty can say whatever they want, however. The faculty and their colleagues have a right to hold one another to truthful standards. 

Things get complicated, he said, when people use free speech to incite danger or to attack others through “abusive” or “explicitly hateful” language.

“A strong university education requires a space in which people are free to explore the truth, wherever it may lead them, even if that truth makes people unhappy or that truth is something that people outside the University reject and want to repress in some way,” he said. “I think at this particular moment, faculty and students at universities are feeling threatened.”

The announcement of the committee follows the resolution, passed by the Board of Trustees on Jan. 26, to “accelerate” the creation of a School of Civic Life and Leadership

School of Civic Life and Leadership

Many University community members have expressed concern about the intentions behind the creation of the School and the lack of faculty involvement in the process of its development. 

Despite the timing of the announcement, Lundberg said that there is no relation between the school and the committee — which was in progress long before the resolution was passed. 

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

“It is a theme that would be interesting to explore as time goes on, because I see the work of the committee around academic freedom and free expression as one of the best answers to the idea that we need to fix the University by balancing it,” he said.

For some committee members, being a part of this group is a chance to address these concerns about the future of academic freedom and free speech. 

For example, Sam Robinson, vice president of the UNC Undergraduate Student Body Government and committee member, felt the board's decision on the Jan. 26 resolution was motivated by “nothing more than political reasons.” He expressed concerns that faculty and students could continue to be excluded from these decisions. 

“I think we've seen small examples, and we have to ensure that does not become the norm, and students and faculty and our entire community have to push back immediately when we see something like that happen,” he said.

Robinson called the issues of academic freedom and free speech “the challenge of our time.”

“I'm glad that they're taking the step. I hope they really prioritize the student and faculty voices in that room, and I have no reason to think they won't,” he said. 

Lundberg, Kramer and Robinson all said that they were excited to be a part of this newly formed committee. 

“You’re going to get honesty, and you're going to get exactly what folks on the committee really believe. What the administration chooses to do with that, what the Board of Trustees chooses to implement with that — we'll have to wait and see,” Robinson said. “But I can tell you folks on the committee are ready to get to work.”


Lauren Rhodes

Lauren Rhodes is a 2023-2024 assistant university editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a senior writer for the university desk. Lauren is a sophomore pursuing a double major in media and journalism and political science with a minor in politics, philosophy and economics.