Table of Contents

REPORT: North Carolina is home to some of America’s best colleges for free speech

  • Eight colleges in North Carolina earn FIRE’s highest rating for free speech — more than in any other state — but 17 still maintain policies that substantially restrict student expression.

PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 24, 2018 — A new report finds that North Carolina’s colleges and universities lead the way nationally for protecting student free speech. The Tar Heel State is home to eight of only 42 institutions nationwide that earn the highest, “green light” speech code rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Do North Carolina Students Have Freedom of Speech?, released by FIRE and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, examines the impressive strides the state’s colleges and universities have taken since a previous report was issued in 2010, when no North Carolina institutions earned a green light rating.

“Many colleges promise students that they can come to campus to engage in vigorous and thoughtful debate, but only a small minority actually deliver on that promise,” said FIRE Vice President of Policy Reform Azhar Majeed. “When schools in North Carolina deliver on that promise of free expression, they’re setting a critical example for colleges around the country while living up to the state’s motto, ‘Esse quam videri’ — to be rather than to seem.”

Of the 37 institutions rated in the new report, 23 have stagnated with the same rating they earned in 2010, while 11 have improved. Though eight North Carolina universities now earn FIRE’s highest rating for their policies, 17 colleges and universities surveyed for this report earn the worst, “red light” rating. Colleges with this rating maintain policies that “clearly and substantially” restrict free expression. Eleven colleges earn a “yellow light” rating, which means the policies are vague or restrict a more limited amount of protected expression.

The North Carolina institutions that earn FIRE’s green light rating are: Appalachian State University, Duke University, East Carolina University, North Carolina Central University, and University of North Carolina campuses at Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Greensboro, and Wilmington. Schools with this rating don’t maintain any written policies that conflict with public colleges’ obligation to honor the First Amendment or private institutions’ promises of free expression. North Carolina is home to more green light institutions than any other state.


The report also discusses state legislation that helped contribute to the positive changes in North Carolina. House Bill 527, which passed in July, included several provisions for the protection of free speech, including eliminating campus “free speech zones” and requiring schools to crack down on demonstrators who disrupt or silence speakers.

“I'm excited about North Carolina’s progress on campus free speech,” said Jenna Robinson, president of the Martin Center. “I look forward to working with FIRE to continue to extend First Amendment protections to even more students and faculty in our state.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit student rights organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.


Daniel Burnett, Communications Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

Recent Articles

FIRE’s award-winning Newsdesk covers the free speech news you need to stay informed.