The right to free speech has long been a cornerstone of academic freedom and higher learning. Our lawmakers in Raleigh have proposed legislation that would protect and preserve free speech on college and university campuses across the state. It is about time.
In 1967, the Kalven Committee Report, a report analyzing a college or university’s role in politics and social action, stated that, “A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community.” As much as free speech has been accepted on college campuses, however, certain limitations by which it can be expressed have been debated.
The North Carolina educational system is infringing on the first amendment. Many colleges and universities in the state have censored the rights of students and faculty to voice opinions on sex, religion, and politics. Vaguely written policies, enforced by distinguished students and faculty, further prohibit free expression and debate among individuals.
In a statement by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), North Carolina colleges were flagged as not having a single “green light” status, a label given to institutio ns which promote freedom of speech. A recent survey conducted in 2016 by Spotlight on Speech Codes found that over 400 universities have adopted policies that infringe on the first amendment rights of students.
Some of the policies prevent and limit the voice and opinions of individuals. Consider the campus newspaper. Censoring certain topics or controversial stories is an infringement on a student’s right to expression.
Universities claim the restrictions are in the best interest of students who could face distress over contrasting opinions on caustic issues, or that the interpretation of the First Amendment is changing.
In a recent survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal, 30 percent of students on campus referred to the first amendment as “outdated.” While the basis behind this statement is unclear, supporting it out of fear of offending some students is the wrong tactic. Such heavy- handed limitations of campus speech erode the integrity of the first amendment.
North Carolina Universities should adopt policies encouraging education based on the principle of freedom of expression. Students and faculty should feel empowered to have an opinion and encourage others to voice their own thoughts. With appreciation and recognition of each other’s values, individuals should strive to build a community of respect within any controversial setting. Universities should take initiative to advertise and promote the importance of speech to the student body and allow for opinions to be shared and voices to be heard.
College is a time for students to find their own voices and form their own opinions. Universities should encourage students be informed and debate and share diverse perspectives with others. As the next generation of citizens and policymakers, students should have the capacity to support what they believe and the ability to share creative concepts and ideas with others.
Colleges and universities should take the lead in opening the door to new, contrasting, controversial, and even provocative perspectives for students to cultivate critical skills that will enable them to reason individually.
The university should be a safe place to argue important ideas and opinions. It should welcome without inhibition students who are actively pursuing intellectual growth. State representatives want to preserve and protect the true intellectual challenge. Urge your lawmakers to pass free speech legislation into law! Our campuses deserve more opportunity for diverse and rigorous.
Jocelyn Ganzert is a junior studying strategic communications at High Point University. She is a co-anchor and reporter on High Point University’s campus news, and a varsity rower on High Point University’s club rowing team. With a background in public relations and communications, Jocelyn interned on Capitol Hill serving Congressman Richard Hudson. She was also a field