WCU, UNC Pembroke bring speech policies in line with the Constitution, earn ‘green light’ rating

By December 6, 2018

Dec. 6, 2018 — Western Carolina University and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke have earned the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s highest, “green light” rating for protecting student and faculty free speech, a distinction held by only 42 other institutions in the country.

“Due to restrictive speech codes, most students around the country forfeit some First Amendment rights when they step onto campus — but not at these two universities,” said Azhar Majeed, FIRE’s vice president of policy reform. “We’re excited that WCU and UNC Pembroke leadership worked to ensure that their respective students enjoy the same free speech rights that they possess off campus. Colleges should be places of robust debate, but the speech policies maintained by most colleges in the country discourage that kind of discussion.”

WCU revised five speech codes that had been designated with a “yellow light” rating from FIRE. Policies earn a yellow light rating when they are vague enough that they could restrict constitutionally protected expression. Among the policy improvements, WCU reformed its campus expressive activity policy to provide robust protections for student demonstrations and expressive activity all over campus. WCU also changed policies relating to information technology use, harassment, bullying, and sexual harassment.

UNC Pembroke, for its part, revised four yellow light policies. These included a free speech event policy, a computer acceptable use regulation, a sexual misconduct policy, and a student code of conduct provision.

“UNC Pembroke is pleased to reaffirm our commitment to free speech within our campus community by achieving green light status with FIRE,” said Travis Bryant, associate vice chancellor for campus safety and emergency operations. “The thoughtful exchange of ideas and respect for differences in opinion and belief is essential to a rigorous academic experience for students, faculty and staff and a core tenet of the high-quality, personal education offered on our campus.”

WCU and UNC Pembroke are the sixth and seventh universities, respectively, to earn a green light rating in 2018. There are now 10 green light schools in North Carolina, more than in any other state in the country. The other Tar Heel State institutions that earn a green light rating are:

  • Appalachian State University
  • Duke University
  • East Carolina University
  • North Carolina Central University
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • University of North Carolina at Greensboro
  • University of North Carolina Wilmington

Public universities like WCU and UNC Pembroke are legally bound by the First Amendment, while private institutions are bound by promises of free speech found in their official policies.

To learn more about the state of free speech on college campuses around the country, see FIRE’s “Spotlight on Speech Codes 2018” report. For a look at North Carolina colleges in particular, check out FIRE’s September report, “Do North Carolina Students Have Freedom of Speech?

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 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.

CONTACT:

Daniel Burnett, Communications Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473; media@thefire.org

Bill Studenc, Chief Communications Officer, WCU: 828-227-3083; bstudenc@wcu.edu

Mark Locklear, Public Communication Specialist, UNC Pembroke: 910-521-6351; mark.locklear@uncp.edu

 

Schools: Western Carolina University University of North Carolina – Pembroke