Free Speech at UNC 2018

In 2017, the North Carolina legislature passed House Bill 527 (now State Law 2017-196) in order to foster free, open inquiry in the state’s colleges and universities.

One of the provisions ordered the University of North Carolina system Board of Governors to produce an annual report on two major categories of intellectual freedom: free speech and institutional neutrality. This report is due on September 1.

The free speech provisions of the law protect students exercising their First Amendment rights and require institutions to punish anyone who infringes upon these rights. This is fundamental to the purpose of a university, permitting the free exchange of ideas that is a prerequisite for the search for truth. The law protects students and guest speakers alike from being disrupted or silenced. It also states that higher education institutions should aspire to “institutional neutrality,” which means they “may not take action, as an institution, on the public policy controversies of the day in such a way as to require students, faculty, or administrators to publicly express a given view of a social policy.” Institutional neutrality, in other words, is integral to developing a campus culture that does not demand students follow a particular set of ideas.

The end of the 2017-2018 academic year marks the first year of implementation of S.L. 2017-196 and provides an opportunity to review how it has affected the UNC system.

In light of this opportunity, the Martin Center has conducted a review of UNC campuses to measure how well free speech and institutional neutrality have been protected.