Two UNC system campuses have revamped their policies and earned higher ratings by a free speech watchdog organization.
N.C. Central University and UNC Greensboro were given a “green light,” the highest designation, according to the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that monitors free speech on U.S. college campuses.
Last year, the FIRE organization studied campus policies and rated them, giving only two universities in North Carolina a “green light” – UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University. N.C. State University and East Carolina University rated a yellow light. At that time, the group had given UNCG a “red light,” the worst rating for free speech.
NCCU received the high rating for its policies on residential life, sexual misconduct and student code of conduct rules on harassment, sexual harassment, bullying and cyberbullying.
NCCU spokeswoman Ayana Hernandez said the university was pleased with the new rating. “North Carolina Central University ... both in practice and in its policies, upholds the First Amendment rights of its students, faculty and staff. NCCU promotes and affirms free speech and open expression on our campus,” she said in a statement.
Samantha Harris, vice president of policy research at FIRE, said UNCG earned its “green light” rating “when it adopted a unified sexual harassment policy that replaced two separate policies – one for employees and one for students – that defined sexual harassment in an impermissibly restrictive way that infringed on protected speech.”
Harris said the new UNCG policy narrowly defines sexual harassment “in a way that prohibits actual harassment while respecting students' right to free speech.”
Campus free speech issues have been in the news around the country.
Last month, the state House passed a bill titled “Restore/preserve campus free speech.” It would require North Carolina’s public universities to have a range of sanctions for protesters who disrupt events or interfere with others’ free speech rights. Universities would have to teach students about free speech policies during freshman orientation. The bill would also establish a UNC Board of Governors Committee on Free Expression to report annually on any incidents or barriers to free speech on public university campuses.
A similar bill is pending in the Senate.