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VICTORY: UNC Chapel Hill rejects task force recommendation, shows why it’s a ‘green light’ school

UNC Chapel Hill campus

Kirk Wester /

UPDATED (June 7, 2023): This report, indicating that the UNC School of Medicine would not be implementing constitutionally problematic social justice initiatives, was based on written and verbal communication with UNC’s Office of University Counsel, which told FIRE it would resolve our First Amendment concerns with the initiatives at the medical school. However, as FIRE has learned UNC plans to eliminate these viewpoint discriminatory requirements from only one medical school department, not the entire school, FIRE’s First Amendment concerns about these problematic initiatives remain.

You can read more here about renewed steps we are taking, in light of this new information, to defend student and faculty rights at the UNC School of Medicine

In a victory for academic freedom, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced its decision to not implement recommendations made by the School of Medicine’s Task Force to Integrate Social Justice into the Curriculum that would condition tenure and promotion on faculty commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

FIRE wrote UNC in April expressing concerns about the task force’s report. We explained that its recommendations would create subjective standards that would compel faculty to voice or demonstrate commitments to prescribed views on contested questions of politics or morality to avoid adverse employment action. Senior University Counsel Kirsten Stevenson responded to our letter last week acknowledging our concerns and stating the task force has concluded its work, with “no plan to implement the Task Force’s recommendations now or in the future.”

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Stevenson explained that even if the recommendations were revisited, further review and revision would be required:

A particular area of concern would be compliance with the recent amendments to the UNC systemwide policy on Political Activities of Employees . . . [which] prohibits the University from requiring an employee or applicant for academic admission or employment from having to “affirmatively ascribe to or opine about beliefs, affiliations, ideals, or principles regarding matters of contemporary political debate or social action as a condition to admission, employment, or professional advancement.”

Of the nearly 500 colleges and universities rated in FIRE’s Spotlight database, UNC is one of only 61 schools to have earned a prestigious “green light” rating. Its latest statement demonstrates why. In rejecting the task force’s recommendations and their potential to condition faculty employment on ideological conformity, UNC protected faculty First Amendment rights, testifying to the importance of safeguarding academic freedom. 

Far too many universities double down on rights abuses rather than admit their actions stifle expressive freedom. UNC’s principled response is a shining example of how universities can successfully address rights violations when brought to their attention. 

FIRE defends the rights of students and faculty members — no matter their views — at public and private universities and colleges in the United States. If you are a student or a faculty member facing investigation or punishment for your speech, submit your case to FIRE today. If you’re a faculty member at a public college or university, call the Faculty Legal Defense Fund 24-hour hotline at 254-500-FLDF (3533). 

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