UNC Greensboro Shows Respect for First Amendment, But Problems Remain

February 1, 2006

GREENSBORO, N.C., February 1, 2006—In response to student protests, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) has agreed to respect its political student groups’ right to freedom of association. After the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) intervened, UNCG also dropped charges against students who demonstrated for freedom of speech. Now, FIRE is calling upon UNCG to abolish its highly restrictive “free speech zone.”
“UNCG is finally starting to do the right thing,” said Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s interim president. “We are happy to offer advice on how the university can live up to its First Amendment obligations—and our suggestions begin with dismantling its ‘free speech zone’ and turning the campus into a place where free speech is not the exception, but the rule.”
FIRE first became involved with UNCG in November, when College Libertarians members Allison Jaynes and Robert Sinnott led a protest of the school’s “free speech zone” policy. UNCG filed campus charges against the two students because their demonstration took place outside of the very “free speech zone” that they were protesting. After FIRE wrote to UNCG Chancellor Patricia Sullivan and later took UNCG’s abuses public, the charges were completely dropped on January 13.
Next, Jaynes and Melissa Westmoreland of the UNCG College Republicans wrote Sullivan to protest the fact that their groups were required to adopt an unconstitutional “nondiscrimination policy.” The policy infringed upon the groups’ First Amendment right to freedom of association by requiring them to admit members of opposing political parties. In response to the students’ letter and a column by UNC Wilmington professor Mike Adams, UNCG Counsel Lucien Capone abandoned the requirement in a January 20 memo. In doing so, Capone credited the ongoing FIRE-coordinated litigation against UNC Chapel Hill, which has unlawfully attempted to force two Christian groups to admit members who do not agree with the groups’ tenets.
Because of these incidents, UNCG asked for FIRE’s input on its “free speech zone” policy, which is under review. Today, FIRE wrote to Capone to make clear that while UNCG is legally “allowed to enforce ‘reasonable time, place and manner restrictions’ on activities that would significantly disrupt university functioning,” there is “nothing ‘reasonable’ about transforming the vast majority of a university’s property into a ‘censorship area.’” FIRE’s letter also condemns UNCG’s “Policy on Discriminatory Conduct,” which absurdly bans any “disrespect for persons.” This unconstitutional speech code was also criticized in the landmark Report on the State of the First Amendment in the University of North Carolina System issued last month by FIRE and the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.
“It is time for real change in the UNC System. Its unconstitutional policies must be reformed,” Lukianoff concluded. “We are hopeful that our speech policy guidelines will help UNCG become the first school in the system to reform its policies as a result of the UNC Report.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro can be viewed at thefire.org/uncg.
CONTACT:
Greg Lukianoff, Interim President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; greg_lukianoff@thefire.org
Patricia Sullivan, Chancellor, University of North Carolina at Greensboro: 336-334-5266; chancellor@uncg.edu
Lucien Capone, Counsel, University of North Carolina at Greensboro: 336-334-3067; caponel@uncg.edu

Schools: University of North Carolina – Greensboro Cases: University of North Carolina at Greensboro: Review of Speech Codes