Forest is working on a draft of the bill with the help of Stanley Kurtz, senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, that would instruct the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors to do the following:
- Craft a systemwide policy that unmistakably affirms the value of free expression and that would impose harsh penalties, including expulsion, on students, staff and faculty members who engage in conscious acts aimed at obstructing the free speech rights of others by disrupting classes, public meetings or events;
- To issue a statement that defines and defends the policy of institutional neutrality on the issues of the day;
- To require that freshman orientation include a session on the promotion of free expression on campus;
- To create a Committee on Free Expression that issues status reports to the legislature annually.
“To my knowledge it will be the most comprehensive, and ambitious effort ever undertaken to protect and defend free expression at any American college or university, public or private,” Kurtz said, “and could serve as a national model.”
Jamey Falkenbury, a spokesperson for the Lieutenant Governor’s office, added, “Our universities should be a place where the free exchange of ideas happens, and no speech on the issues of the day should be suppressed, no matter how offensive someone else may find the speech to be.”
In an email to the media, Falkenbury wrote, “The Campus Free Expression Act would ensure that all students, faculty, and others in the University community have the freedom to express opinions on the issues of the day without fear of intimidation or being silenced by others who do not share their views or by institutional policy.
“It would require that the University make a commitment to free expression, stop the ‘heckler’s veto’ in shutting down and interrupting free speech on campus, require a Committee on Free Expression that provides an annual report, and provide that the University remains neutral as a whole on the issues of the day in order to prevent the suppression of other viewpoints.
“This will all be done while protecting the integrity of academic freedom, due process, and the right of professors to keep order in their classrooms. Our universities must be a place where there is free trade in the marketplace of ideas, and this act will attempt to foster this.”
The proposed legislation stems from an incident where protesters attempted to shut down a UNC Board of Governors meeting at UNC-Chapel Hill in January and who had to be forcibly removed by campus police. The protesters had a number of complaints, but they primarily objected to the hiring of Margaret Spellings as UNC President. The protestors were calling for her immediate removal.
Spellings served as a White House Domestic Policy Advisor (2001-2005) and as the United States Secretary of Education (2005-2009). Despite her impressive qualifications — at the Department of Education she managed a $70 billion, 5,000 employee bureaucracy — her election as UNC President by a unanimous vote of the Board of Governors was deemed unacceptable by vocal student activists because of her connection to the Republican administration of President George W. Bush. From 2013 to 2016, Spellings also served as President of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
As one protester described it on Facebook, “We decided to stand up when Margaret Spellings started speaking and turn our backs on her because we wanted to let her know that students across the state of N.C. are paying attention and we want her resignation.” —Trần Ngọc Loan
After dozens of people broke out in prolonged chanting of “No Justice! No Peace!” four of the protesters who attempted to take over the board meeting were arrested on a variety of charges. They would be dubbed “The BOG 4” by fellow protesters.
Madeleine Scanlon, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, was charged with resisting and obstructing an officer, assault inflicting serious injury on a law enforcement officer and disorderly conduct.
Olufemi Shittu, 24, of Asheboro, and a student at UNC-Greensboro, was charged with disorderly conduct in a public building.
Irving Allen, 19, from Greensboro, and a staff member of activist group Ignite NC, was charged with disorderly conduct in a public building, resisting and obstructing an officer and disorderly conduct.
Jennifer Myers, 22, a UNC Chapel Hill senior, was arrested but was issued a trespass warning by UNC-Chapel Hill police after an Orange County magistrate found no probable cause to charge her.
The remaining three protesters had their charges dropped later in a plea deal during a court appearance in February.
“I think the behavior, the response of the officers here was completely dictated by the behavior of the protesters today,” said UNC Police Chief Jeff McCracken. “We hate that we had to take any action, but that was their choice.”
Jayna Fishman, a UNC sophomore and member of the BOG Democracy Coalition, says it’s her guess “that the proposal was put forward to try and intimidate us and keep us from protesting in the manner we’ve been doing.”
The Campus Free Expression Act probably can’t come soon enough for President Spellings, who announced yesterday that the Board of Governors’ meeting originally scheduled for April 15th in Asheville had to be cancelled due to “potential large-scale protests.”
Listen to Lt. Gov. Dan Forest discuss the Campus Freedom of Expression Act on his March 16, 2016 appearance on the KC O’Dea radio show.