Earlier this week, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) Faculty Council voted to eliminate a university anti-harassment rule that’s been suspended since 2013. UNC’s Student Congress has also approved the change to this speech-restrictive policy, meaning that only UNC Chancellor Carol Folt is left to approve it. UNC law professor Richard Myers, a former federal prosecutor and outgoing chairman of the university’s Committee on Student Conduct, told the Faculty Council the rule was “unconstitutionally overbroad” and had been a source of tension for professors and student groups for a number of years.
As we previously reported, former UNC chancellor Holden Thorp suspended the rule in 2013—which prohibits “disruptive or intimidating behavior that willfully abuses, disparages or otherwise interferes” with another individual. The suspension came after student Landen Gambill was charged with violating the policy for publicly criticizing the university’s handling of her allegations of sexual assault against a fellow student.
FIRE gives this policy a “yellow light” rating in our Spotlight database, meaning the policy could be used to ban or excessively regulate speech protected by the First Amendment. As Professor Myers correctly stated, this rule is unconstitutionally overbroad because it is too subjective and can conceivably be applied to cover a wide range of speech.
FIRE is happy to see the necessary changes occurring at UNC in order to protect the First Amendment rights of all students. UNC should be proud of tackling this unconstitutional code and removing it from its Code of Conduct. If the Chancellor approves this change, the university will be in line for FIRE’s highest, “green light” rating. We very much hope to add UNC to our green light list, just as we did George Mason University recently!