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UNC-G loses ground in free speech battle

January 19, 2006

Two UNC-Greensboro students recently charged with violating the university's free speech policy are no longer in jeopardy of facing legal action.

Administrators reprimanded Allison Jaynes and Robert Sinnott on Nov. 16 during their protest of the university's free speech zones.

Officials asked the students to move their demonstration to one of the two free speech zones on campus. The students refused, citing the First Amendment.

UNC-G's free speech zones were challenged again in December with the release of a report by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Robert Shibley, FIRE's program manager, said the group has successfully challenged restrictions on free speech at Texas Tech University, West Virginia University and Citrus College in California.

The John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy also pressured UNC-G to stop fighting what it deemed a losing battle.

George Leef, director of the Pope Center, said UNC-G would not have had a case in court.

"It would've been a slam-dunk, no contest win for whatever attorney who would have taken the case," Leef said.

"I think the university realized they had no ground to stand on," Leef said. "They knew they'd lose, so they backed away."

Steve Gilliam, director of university relations at UNC-G, said the university has two free speech zones which were created as protests to the Vietnam War.

Though Gilliam said there have been no other problems stemming from the zones, Patricia Sullivan, UNC-G chancellor, called a commission on Nov. 14, two days prior to the incident, to re-evaluate guidelines regarding free speech.

The committee will reconvene Jan. 27, and Gilliam anticipates a recommendation by the committee by mid-March.

Gilliam said charges were dropped mainly because of this re-evaluation.

"If regulations governing students were going to change, we didn't want to take further disciplinary action against them," Gilliam said.

Shibley added, "We are hoping that UNC-G will do the right thing and make the entire campus a free speech zone...

Schools: University of North Carolina – Wilmington University of North Carolina – Greensboro University of North Carolina – Pembroke University of North Carolina – Charlotte University of North Carolina School of the Arts Cases: University of North Carolina System: State of the First Amendment University of North Carolina at Greensboro: Punishment of Free Speech Protestors