UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees adopts resolution affirming free speech

Old Well at UNC Chapel Hill by Maya Regan for CJ.

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  • A recent survey from Heterodox Academy found the percentage of students who believe the political and social climate on their college campus hampers free speech rose from 55% in 2019 to 64% in 2021.
  • According to a new report from UNC-Chapel Hill scholars, a greater proportion of conservative students feel “uncomfortable giving honest opinions in class” on issues such as race, police, immigration, and masks.

The Board of Trustees for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has unanimously adopted a resolution affirming the school’s commitment to academic freedom and freedom of speech on campus.

“Our universities, particularly, should be the place where we most expect the freedom to challenge the status quo, both in society and amongst the folks in the institution itself,” said vice chair John Preyer. “We should expect this to be a place where we are encouraged to understand and articulate positions other than our own in a fair and honest manner.”

The vote, on July 27, followed a presentation on the results of a new survey from UNC-CH faculty that gauged how comfortable students of conservative, moderate, or liberal viewpoints are about expressing their views in class or on campus.

The survey queried randomly selected students at a cross-section of UNC System schools, including UNC-Chapel Hill, Appalachian State, N.C. Central University, and UNC-Greensboro.

Although the report concluded that faculty “generally do not push political agendas,” campuses still “do not consistently achieve an atmosphere that promotes free expression” and “students who identify as conservative face distinctive challenges.”

A greater proportion of conservative students felt “uncomfortable giving honest opinions in class” on issues such as race, police, immigration, and masks. Liberal students felt the most comfortable sharing their viewpoints, with moderate students falling in the middle.

On the question of which students are most engaged, the survey found that students who were “less open-minded, less adept at perspective taking, and more likely to harbor negative stereotypes” felt the most freedom to speak out.

Students also expressed a larger appetite for hearing conservative speakers on campus. That support held true even among self-identified liberal students: “Among students who identify as liberal, there is often more support for inviting more conservative speakers than for inviting more liberal speakers.”

“We talk a lot about diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said board of trustees member Marty Kotis. “Diversity also means diversity of opinions and freedom to explore thoughts. I just feel like we could say it’s the most critical issue going on right now. And it certainly is among conservative families out there when they’re deciding where to send their children.”