David Deerson, a former FIRE intern and current University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill junior, penned an excellent letter to the editor published in today’s edition of The Daily Tar Heel. His letter responds to an article from Tuesday, which reported that UNC’s vice chancellor for student affairs Winston Crisp is comfortable with the school’s “yellow light” rating from FIRE. David writes:
TO THE EDITOR:
It is disturbing to read that Winston Crisp is comfortable with UNC’s yellow light rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
UNC is a state institution and it receives funding from both local and federal governments. If the institution’s policies stand in violation of the Constitution, it doesn’t matter much whether UNC administrators are comfortable with them or not.
The fact of the matter is that UNC has certain policies that have already been declared unconstitutional at other universities. What makes UNC’s complacency with its problematic policies especially frustrating is that the solutions to them are so simple. For example, the Supreme Court has already laid down a clear definition of student-on-student sexual harassment in the educational context. Why not simply borrow the court’s language and ensure that the University’s policies do not violate essential freedoms?
Linda Foulsham of Appalachian State University completely missed the point when she said that instances would only be determined to be sexual harassment after applying the facts of a particular situation and individual review.
The last thing we should want is a policy so vague that it puts the determination of guilt entirely in the hands of administrators. Policies should be as clear as possible, so that individuals know exactly what constitutes a violation.
For more information about the problematic policies, I urge concerned readers to visit FIRE at www.thefire.org, and read my open letter to Dean of Students John Sauls at http://www.unclibertarians.com/2012/01/open-letter-to-dean-sauls/
UNC-CH College Libertarians
FIRE agrees that the UNC community should not take a complacent view toward policies that violate students’ First Amendment rights. Like David says, Crisp’s apparent comfort is especially regrettable because it is very possible to craft workable policies that respect campus speech rights. The College of William & Mary, the University of Virginia, Arizona State University, James Madison University, and the University of Mississippi are all major public universities like UNC that are not just “comfortable” but proud of their green light policies. The changes UNC needs to make to protect student rights are simple but significant, and when UNC decides to become a green light school FIRE will be happy to help.