UNC’s Compelled-Speech Policy Is Working

Backtracking at NC State reveals that the recent change is already hampering DEI.

Across the country, universities’ zeal for “diversity, equity, and inclusion” is encroaching on the free speech and academic freedom of students and faculty. In February, the UNC Board of Governors—which oversees all 16 institutions in the UNC System—offered up a solution: a new policy prohibiting compelled speech, which the Martin Center wrote about here.

The policy is now being implemented and enforced at UNC institutions, ensuring that faculty members aren’t forced to take positions on ideological or political issues, including DEI.

Recent changes at NC State demonstrate that the policy is already working. In response to the new directive, the Faculty Senate Special Select Subcommittee on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging has paused a project that appeared to promote the use of DEI statements in promotion and tenure considerations.

A faculty subcommittee has paused the use of DEI statements in promotion and tenure considerations.In an email to the Martin Center, Professor Corey Johnson, a committee co-chair, explained that the committee “was formed by NC State’s Faculty Senate in January 2023 after a year-long process of consideration, deliberation, and solicitation of faculty member volunteers who were interested and willing … to advance the institution’s priorities, specifically in relation to goal #4 of NCSU’s strategic plan.” (Goal #4 requires the university to “champion a culture of equity, diversity, inclusion, belonging and well-being in all we do.”)

On May 1, the committee sent an email to faculty members, inviting them to take a survey (available here) and suggesting that DEI considerations could be used to evaluate professors for promotion and tenure in the future. The email stated

Survey data will be used to inform the on-going effort of the Special Select Committee of the Faculty Senate to identify opportunities to align [reappointment, promotion, and tenure] processes to include work that advances the 7 Bold Goals. Specifically, we focus on faculty effort related to Goal 4. The reason for this is that empirical evidence shows that work to advance diversity, equity, inclusion and/or belonging (DEIB), is under-recognized and/or misunderstood in [such] processes nation-wide.” (Emphasis in the original.)

It’s hard to see how DEIB goals can be “aligned with” tenure decisions without compelling faculty to make statements about their “beliefs, affiliations, ideals, or principles,” or without “soliciting or requiring a [faculty member] to describe his or her actions in support of, or in opposition to,” such beliefs. Both requirements are prohibited by the new UNC compelled-speech policy.

After a faculty member raised a concern about the committee’s forthcoming decision, the committee quickly paused its work. Professor Johnson wrote, “On May 10 we paused the work of the committee to allow time for the committee and the Faculty Senate … to understand more deeply the implications of the changes to the UNC System policy.”

Going forward, the committee has no plans to implement its DEI goals in ways that are contrary to UNC policy. Professor Johnson told the Martin Center, “The goal of the committee has never been to compel faculty to engage in activities that support diversity, equity, inclusion, or belonging (DEIB), nor to penalize faculty who do not engage in such activities; as such the committee would never recommend that the university require mandatory DEI statements or adopt any other practices that would violate the compelled speech policy.” (Emphasis in the original.)

As is now evident, the UNC System’s compelled-speech policy works. It should be a model for institutions across the country.

Jenna A. Robinson is the president of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.