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Education

Stanley Kurtz on North Carolina’s Campus Free-Speech Act

University of Georgia’s campus (Via Wikimedia Commons)

The first state to pass the model Campus Free-Speech Act proposed by the Goldwater Institute was North Carolina. In today’s Martin Center essay, Stanley Kurtz (who helped draft the legislation), explains why it can help alter the higher-education landscape.

In the article, which is based on a talk Kurtz gave for the Martin Center, he focuses on two big points.

First, under the law, the UNC Board of Governors must produce an annual report on free-speech issues in the system. That provides the oversight needed so that campus officials, who perhaps couldn’t care less about free-speech issues, won’t be able to pretend that nothing amiss is happening. Kurtz gives three reasons why this report will matter:

First, there is the power of sunlight and persuasion. Second, should the annual oversight report criticize the administrative handling of campus free speech, we would expect to see some reaction. Either administrators will respond to suggestions for reform by their bosses, or they’ll have to worry about consequences for themselves. Third, a negative annual oversight report would provide legislators with reason to reconsider the level of their appropriations for the university, at least in the absence of action by administrators to meet the report’s concerns.

The other big point is that UNC schools are now required to act with “institutional neutrality” with regard to controversial matters. They are not supposed to “take sides” any longer. That could have an impact, Kurtz suggests, on those summer-reading assignments given to incoming students — books that usually take a leftist position on some question.

He gives this example:

When the institution tells all entering freshmen to read only a single book that clearly takes a particular stand on an issue of public controversy, the neutrality principle has arguably been violated. When the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assigns as its sole freshman summer reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, a brief against capital punishment, at a moment when capital punishment is a controversy in North Carolina, I’d suggest that we have a violation of institutional neutrality.

So far, four states have adopted the Goldwater model bill. Let us hope that more do so.

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

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