Soiling One Of UNC’s Proudest Moments
Among recent headlines, the student government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill deliberately cut the budget of College Republicans to prevent the group from bringing two speakers to campus, Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich and filmmaker Ann McElhinney, whom student government representatives derided as “non-intellectual,” “non-academic,” and of no “educational value.”
A point could be made that students ought not, through the collection of student fees, be made to “sustain political advocacy that they probably do not espouse and which, given the choice, would not fund.” That reform still beckons. Nevertheless, given that it is the system in place, fairness and viewpoint neutrality should apply.
As should the university’s proud reputation as a beacon of free speech, which UNC students, leaders, and supporters won for their beloved university in the 1960s.
I challenge the UNC community to justify the current attempt to keep Pavlich and McElhinney out of student earshot as essentially and critically different from keeping Frank Wilkinson and Herbert Aptheker out of student earshot in 1966. I will grant up front that in 1966 the threat to speech was from without, whereas now it is from within, but I will do so with the caveat that it would not really help the university’s case to harp on that distinction.
Here are some quotations to guide you:
It would be far better to close the University than to let a cancer eat away at the spirit of inquiry and learning.
Faculty Council Statement, October 23, 1963:
We believe that a university campus is a place where any idea should be open to free discussion — whether it be the promise of a communist utopia, a Birchite charge of treason in high places, or the thesis of a governor that salvation lies only in defiance of the federal courts.
Student Body President Paul Dickson III, Chairman of the Committee for Free Inquiry, February 28, 1966:
These procedures, if adopted, will do grave and irreparable damage to the University of North Carolina. They will destroy our ability to compete for excellent scholars and students with other outstanding institutions. We cannot compete with such institutions as Duke University solely on a financial basis because we are not as rich. We are able — or have been able in the past — to compete because of our high regard for academic freedom, free inquiry, and free speech. These procedures will destroy this atmosphere of freedom and thus to a large extent our ability to compete. This means that the University will become a second rate school. It means that my degree and those of the graduate students will be second rate degrees. It means that the University will begin a downward slide from which it might never recover.
Chancellor William B. Aycock, ”Freedom of the University” speech, June 6, 1960:
We must not — we cannot — allow our precious heritage — a free university — to be infringed upon by an individual or group from whatever position or by whatever disposition. We shall not sit idly by and permit this to occur. My plea to you is that in the spirit of our fathers, all of us in the University family join hands with each other and with all those who hold freedom dear to guarantee that this great instrument of democracy — the oldest of our state universities — shall not be molded to suit the notions of any single person or group. This, my fellow Tar Heels, is the most important issue facing the University.
Student Government, A Resolution in Support of Free Speech at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, February 10, 1966:
WHEREAS: The University must serve as an open forum for different views and opinions, no matter how unpopular or divergent, and
WHEREAS: The University must guarantee to all members of the academic community the right to hear all sides of issues, and
WHEREAS: It is only through the critical examination of all alternatives that the accumulated knowledge of society can be advanced, and
WHEREAS: It has always been the policy of the Carolina Forum as a Student Government executive agency to present all points of view on its programs …
If the current leadership at UNC-CH, and the community of Tar Heels at large, willingly stand by petty partisanship and truly anti-intellectual attempts to shut out speakers on campus because of their politics, then they should at least be intellectually honest enough to dig up and destroy the university’s monument to its communitywide effort to fight the Speaker Ban Law of the 1960s.
Who will “raise [their] hand and volunteer” to do that?
Jon Sanders (@jonpsanders) is director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation.