Speech Protections Are Spreading Across the UNC System

Recent moves by UNC Charlotte and East Carolina University should be applauded.

Free-speech protections are on the rise in the UNC System. Late last year, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees and Faculty Council adopted free-speech resolutions, with the latter signing on to the speech-friendly Chicago Principles, as well. More recently, two UNC-System institutions have joined the flagship in publicly committing to protecting First Amendment rights on campus.

Last month, UNC Charlotte’s Faculty Council held a special meeting to discuss and ultimately pass a free-speech resolution endorsing the Chicago Principles. Following suit, the UNC Charlotte Board of Trustees made a similar commitment, also endorsing the Chicago Principles.

The Charlotte Faculty Council’s resolution came from work done by the Free Expression and Constructive Dialogue Task Force, created by Provost Joan Lorden in 2022 following the UNC Board of Governors’ report on a survey regarding free expression on system campuses.

Having two influential entities at one institution make commitments to free speech is excellent progress. And UNC Charlotte is not alone in its efforts.

Two UNC-System institutions have joined the flagship in protecting First Amendment rights on campus.East Carolina University (ECU) is also making strides in protecting First Amendment rights. The ECU Board of Trustees passed a resolution for academic freedom and freedom of speech earlier this year. ECU’s trustees also confirmed the Chicago Principles, and they went a step further by including the Kalven Committee’s “Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action” in their resolution. (The Kalven Committee’s report commits universities to institutional neutrality on political and social issues.) Pairing these two actions makes for even stronger speech protections on campus.

Meanwhile, the North Carolina legislature is considering a bill that would protect students and employees from compelled speech. House Bill 607, also referred to as the Prohibit Compelled Speech/Higher Ed bill, would, if passed, “prohibit constituent institutions […] from compelling certain forms of student and employee speech.” The bill further states that institutions within each system cannot require students or employees to speak on “beliefs, affiliations, ideals, or principles regarding matters of contemporary political debate or social action as a condition to admission, employment, or professional advancement.”

Mirroring in large part the stipulations enacted by the Board of Governors earlier this year, the legislature’s protections would apply to students and employees, specifically in the realm of college and job applications. The bill would also help to make clear what is and is not acceptable behavior from colleges, a necessary step given (for example) NC State’s recent inclusion and quick removal of a compelled DEI statement on admissions applications.

The Martin Center is hopeful that, with the legislature leading the way, the rest of the system will soon join ECU, UNC Charlotte, and UNC-Chapel Hill in protecting free speech on campus.

Ashlynn Warta is the state reporter for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.