The Corner

Education

A State Steps Up to Protect Campus Free Speech

Campus leftists have so tramped upon freedom of speech that a legislative reaction was inevitable. A model bill, the Campus Free Speech Act, has been drafted and introduced in quite a few state legislatures this year. One state is North Carolina. The bill has passed both the House and Senate and now sits on Governor Cooper’s desk. I don’t know whether he will sign it or not. The state has a lot of rabid “progressives” who helped elect Cooper in last fall’s nail-biter election and they might persuade him to veto the bill on the grounds that it interferes with what they view as their terrain — the UNC system.

One reason why the campus Left opposed the bill is that it requires that state colleges and universities adhere to “institutional neutrality.” That’s a crucial feature, argues Jay Schalin in today’s Martin Center article.

While individual administrators and faculty members should naturally be free to take any position on political issues, the institutions should not take sides. Schalin provides several examples. When colleges insist that faculty members and applicants submit “diversity statements,” that amounts to an official position that only if you are willing to declare your support for a set of extremely debatable notions are you fit to teach there. Another example is the “Climate Leadership Statement” that many college presidents have signed. It means that the school has taken sides in the argument over climate change. That could silence faculty members who disagree but don’t want to jeopardize their jobs.

Schalin concludes, “With the Free Speech Act, the North Carolina legislature has provided some powerful safeguards against future politicization of the state’s colleges and universities, and it deserves great praise for securing those protections. Of course, more needs to be done, so it should not rest on this year’s laurels but continue to improve the academic atmosphere in the state’s higher education institutions for the benefit of all North Carolinians.” That’s right, and if the campus leftists can’t stand operating under rules that protect free speech and depoliticize academe, they are free to leave.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.