NC Board of Governors strikes a blow for campus free speech

Yesterday the Board of Governors for the University of North Carolina System approved changes to the Policy Manual that regulates all public universities in the state:

The University shall neither solicit nor require an employee or applicant for academic admission or employment to affirmatively ascribe to or opine about beliefs, affiliations, ideals, or principles regarding matters of contemporary political debate or social action as a condition to admission, employment, or professional advancement. Nor shall any employee or applicant be solicited or required to describe his or her actions in support of, or in opposition to, such beliefs, affiliations, ideals, or principles.

You would think a simple policy against compelled speech would draw wide support from North Carolina academics and their allies in the media, but you would be wrong. Two examples by NC Policy Watch, a left-wing media organization, perfectly illustrate the mindset of the leftist professors in our universities:

Could a university looking at candidates doing research on COVID-19 ask them to submit an optional statement on whether the virus originated in a laboratory? Would any such request count as “soliciting” them to “opine” on matters of “contemporary political debate,” even if it is not mandatory?  

If a candidate for a position on the law faculty gave a talk about whether Congress has the power to use the Constitution’s Commerce Clause to pass a law guaranteeing access to abortion services, could a member of the faculty follow up with a question about where the candidate comes down on the question, beyond the typical pros and cons?

Why is it necessary to ask job applicants to submit their personal opinion on the source of the virus? That is very different from asking the question, “Please summarize the research on the origins of COVID-19.” And why in the world would we ask a job candidate what they personally think about federal law and abortion? Why not limit questions to the candidate’s research on this topic? This is how job talks were conducted back in the day.

Now consider this landmark Supreme Court case on compelled speech. In the 1943 case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the Court held that a state law requiring public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and salute the flag was unconstitutional because it violated the students’ freedom of speech and religion. The Court found that the government could not force individuals to express a message with which they disagreed, even if that message was seen as patriotic or in the national interest.

Imagine the Board of Governors amending the Policy Handbook requiring all faculty to say the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of every faculty meeting. Faculty would go ballistic!

An administrator in my department said in response to the proposed changes, “This threatens our very identity!” Exactly right. Leftist academics realize a ban on compelled speech represents a threat to their ability to shove their DEI agenda down the throats of students and faculty. Indeed, in response to the growing hostility to compelled speech on NC campuses, NC State recently withdrew an essay question required for all applicants:

N.C. State has come under fire for the question, which tells students the university “is committed to building a just and inclusive community” and rejects “unjust or inhumane treatment” and will denounce it “clearly and loudly.” The university then prompts students to write a maximum 250-word essay describing “what those words mean to you and how you will contribute to a more diverse and inclusive environment.”

We’re taking back the universities, one step at a time.

By Stephen

About me

Professor and quant guy. Libertarian turned populist Republican. Trying to learn Japanese and play Spanish Baroque music on the ukulele.

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