More Free-Speech Recognition for UNC Schools

UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC Charlotte have won well-deserved praise from Heterodox Academy.

Last week, UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC Charlotte won Heterodox Academy’s “Institutional Excellence Award” for having “done the most to advance or sustain open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement either on its own campus or nationally.”

Heterodox Academy (HxA) is a nonpartisan faculty organization with thousands of members dedicated to free expression and a diverse intellectual environment on campus. HxA presents the Open Inquiry Awards to honor individual faculty members, groups, and institutions who are “leading the way in improving classrooms, campuses, and scholarship by championing our values.”

HxA president John Tomasi told the Martin Center, “UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC Charlotte are exceptional examples of academic insiders working to elevate the ideal of open inquiry on their campuses.”

“The Carolina Community is in agreement about the important role that freedom of thought, conscience, and speech play.”Tomasi added, “Both schools are members of HxA’s fast-growing Campus Community Network. More than mere members, however, HxA’s chapters at UNC and Charlotte have become role models for advocates of academic freedom on campuses across the country and around the world. Jointly awarding [a] 2023 Open Inquiry Award to these two campuses is our way of expressing our admiration for the work they do.”

HxA chose UNC-Chapel Hill as an award recipient for its “myriad efforts” to improve free-speech protections for faculty and students, including campus-wide research to assess free expression and campus dialogue, implemented at eight institutions across the UNC System. Carolina also launched the UNC Program for Public Discourse, which HxA calls “a key institutional component of UNC’s efforts to showcase viewpoint diversity and constructive discourse.” Furthermore, UNC-Chapel Hill recently passed three resolutions to protect academic freedom and institutional neutrality. “And finally,” writes HxA, “UNC created the faculty Committee for Academic Freedom and Free Expression in 2023, among other accomplishments.”

UNC-Chapel Hill trustee Perrin Jones told the Martin Center, “The Carolina Community—our students, administrators, trustees, and faculty—is in agreement about the important role that freedom of thought, conscience, and speech play within both the university and our broader society.” Jones, who spearheaded trustee efforts on free expression and institutional neutrality, added, “UNC, as it has done before, is proud to lead the way in protecting, and advancing, these freedoms.”

HxA chose UNC Charlotte for “a number of successful initiatives,” spearheaded by its Free Expression & Constructive Dialogue Task Force. HxA notes:

In April 2023, the faculty overwhelmingly passed a free speech resolution based on the Chicago Principles. The task force also created a Constructive Dialogue Faculty Learning Community to bring the tools of constructive dialogue into the classroom, in addition to creating a resource website for anyone on campus. And finally, the task force created the Charlotte Conversationalists, which is a new program that has trained 10 undergraduate students in the art of constructive dialogue and will support them to conduct student conversations in informal settings on campus, among other accomplishments.

UNC Charlotte trustee J. Brett Keeter told the Martin Center, “To have our work on free speech and diversity of thought recognized nationally is a phenomenal honor. I am proud that at UNC Charlotte, our faculty lead on this effort, and we on the Board of Trustees were able to reinforce their actions and endorse the Chicago Principles with our own strong resolution.”

Keeter, who chairs the Board’s Academic and Student Life Committee, credited leaders across UNC Charlotte for modeling free expression and viewpoint diversity, saying, “Our chancellor and administration set a tremendous example of living these principles every day. In the past year, we’ve had controversial speakers and events on campus, and these were shining examples of how the First Amendment should be practiced.”

UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC Charlotte are models for the UNC System and the rest of the country.

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