‘Daily Tar Heel’ Editorial Board: Get Rid of UNC’s Speech Codes

By September 20, 2012

Fresh off a campus visit from FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley, the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (UNC) could use a little speech code reform to start off the school year. Recognizing as much is the Editorial Board of the UNC campus paper The Daily Tar Heel, in a stirring opinion piece published yesterday.

The paper calls on UNC to improve its Spotlight rating of "red light" and, in particular, its Community Living Standards policy on "Rights and Responsibilities." This red light speech code instructs UNC students to "[a]void using the written or spoken word in a way that demeans, defames, offends, slanders or discriminates." Of this unconstitutional restriction, the Daily Tar Heel observes:

As of right now, a single inappropriate or offensive joke could land you in hot water with your housing community and in violation of your contract.

But who is to say what is inappropriate and what is offensive? The policy places judgment with the most easily offended person on campus.

Unfortunately, this is absolutely true. The answer, as the article recognizes, can be found at a rather nearby location: namely, North Carolina State University, which recently removed a similar policy restricting protected speech. The Editorial Board writes:

Last year, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education contacted N.C. State University to inform them their civility policy was in violation of the First Amendment.

Relenting, N.C. State made the policy voluntary earlier this month. 

Indeed, as we celebrated in a press release, NC State made its civility statement clearly aspirational, ensuring that students would not be subject to unconstitutional punishment under its terms. We hope that UNC will follow in those footsteps and ultimately remove all of its speech codes.  

Our thanks to the Editorial Board of the Daily Tar Heel for its attention to UNC’s speech codes.

Schools: University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill