BOONE, N.C., April 5, 2006—With the assistance of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), student activists at Appalachian State University (App State) have brought down an unconstitutional speech code. This welcome development was a direct result of a recent report by FIRE and the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, as well as the efforts of the App State ACLU.
“Our Report on the State of the First Amendment in the University of North Carolina System showed that universities like App State have a lot of work to do,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “But every student at App State is better off now that the administration there has repealed this speech code.”
FIRE and the Pope Center unveiled their Report on the State of the First Amendment in the University of North Carolina System in January. The Report documented that while “the universities in the UNC System are legally bound to uphold the First Amendment rights of their students and faculty,” they “are failing miserably.” As it demonstrated, “13 out of the 16 schools in the UNC System have at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”
One of these codes was the harassment policy enacted by App State’s Department of Housing and Residence Life. As FIRE’s press release on the Report noted, that policy banned “insults, taunts, or challenges directed toward another person.” Upon reading about this policy in the Report, Paul Funderburk, a graduate student and the president of App State’s ACLU chapter, urged administrators to repeal the policy. As he put it, “The free exchange of ideas is the foremost prerequisite of a democratic society.”
On March 22, App State administrators made FIRE aware that the policy had indeed been repealed and removed from the university’s website. App State’s entry on FIRE’s Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource has been updated accordingly, although the university still receives a “red light” rating due to other troubling speech codes.
“We are very pleased that FIRE has taken the time to evaluate the state of the First Amendment in the UNC System,” Funderburk commented. “Without FIRE’s assistance, this affront to free expression would have gone unnoticed. FIRE provides a tremendously valuable service to all college students.”
“App State’s policies are not perfect, but the university has taken a tremendous step forward,” FIRE’s Lukianoff stated. “The speech code that was just repealed was definitely the worst offender among its policies. We look forward to seeing App State—and the entire UNC System—take even more steps to guarantee students’ precious rights.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across North Carolina can be viewed at thefire.org/nc.