The Prohibit Compelled Speech/Higher Ed Act, House Bill 607, sits in the Senate Rules Committee this week, after passing the House earlier this month. It seeks to extend and codify protections from compelled speech for students and college applicants in North Carolina.

More specifically, this bill would prevent colleges and Universities from using Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) questions in their job and student applications.

HB 607 prohibits students, faculty, or administrators from being forced to take “particular views on matters of contemporary political debate or social action contained on applications or qualifications for admission or employment or included as criteria for analysis of an employee’s career progress.”

In addition to banning certain questions for admissions, the bill would ban discriminatory hiring and promotion practices based on ideological beliefs.

All of this follows a flurry of similar legislation that has also tried to ensure that institutions of higher education and workplaces do not force students or employees to feel pressured to adopt certain beliefs to keep their position.

Earlier this year, the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors unanimously approved a similar ban on compelled political speech protecting current and prospective employees. The bill specifically targeted schools that were forcing employees or applicants to accept political viewpoints as conditions of employment.

This ban however only applied to schools within the UNC system, HB 607 on the other hand, would extend over all 58 community colleges located in North Carolina.

Another bill currently in the General Assembly is Senate Bill 364 which adopts very similar language to the UNC system ban but instead applies to state non-exempt employees to protect them from being required to “endorse or opine” any belief as a condition of employment.

“When institutions in the hiring and firing process, for example, delve into the applicant’s beliefs on politically contentious issues they are treading on thin ice,” Joe Cohn, Legislative and Policy Director for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), stated. “There are many instances across the country that demonstrate that those questions are used to filter out dissent.”

N.C. Entrance Application

N.C. State University belltower.

In February, North Carolina State University stopped requiring applicants to answer an essay question affirming the DEI agenda that the university promotes. According to Rep. Steve Tyson, R-Craven, the N.C. State case motivated him to sponsor HB 607.

“Almost ten years ago, this wouldn’t have been necessary, but I do feel like in today’s climate socially, among particularly the universities,” decisions like the one from the UNC Board of governors “ought to be applied to the state government as well,” stated Tyson.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, states that faculty hiring criteria using “vague or ideologically motivated DEI statement policies can too easily function as litmus tests for adherence to prevailing ideological views on DEI, penalize faculty for holding dissenting opinions on matters of public concern, and ‘cast a pall of orthodoxy’ over the campus.”

Universities across the country like N.C. State have rescinded their DEI questions including the University of Illinois, University of Washington, Texas Tech, Ohio State, and the University of Tennessee.

petitioning for exemption

However, a process to petition for an exemption to the rule is built into the UNC Board of Governors’ policy. School administrators could bypass the ban on compelled speech for certain lessons by getting approval from the college president, and holding discussion in an open session with the Committee on University Governance, attended by the chancellor, provost, and chair of trustees. Doing so would be necessary to meet “the educational, research, or public service mission” of the school. HB 607 adopts these same guidelines.

Tyson said that college applicant questions should focus on grades and accomplishments, rather than DEI.

“[The] UNC system gets over $4 billion and the community colleges get over 1.5 billion this year,” he said. “So they need to do the job to educate young people and not try to scope their ideology.”