UNC speech policy takes final steps to passage

The UNC Board of Governors’ Committee on Governance passed a controversial university speech policy Thursday in a standing-room-only meeting.

A controversial university speech policy took a crucial step toward becoming a reality Thursday, passing the UNC Board of Governors’ committee on governance unanimously.

The committee on governance met in Chapel Hill Thursday, part of the the first of two full-day meetings for the full board. The policy will need to be reviewed and passed by the board at its next meeting.

“I feel like we have a consensus free speech policy that will be a benefit to the university,” said Governance Committee Chairman Steve Long.

The committee did spend weeks reaching out to students, faculty and staff at the university – and the latest draft policy does reflect some concessions to their concerns. But students, faculty and staff members said Thursday they do not think there is a need for the policy.

“We sent them a statement with our concerns and they did listen to us and there were some concessions,” said Gabriel Lugo, chair of the UNC Faculty Assembly. “But overall, we think we have systems in place now that have worked very well for us. We don’t agree that if a student or a faculty member is part of a disturbance and is arrested, they should be punished twice – criminally and then through the university.”

“But we are good citizens and we understand this will be the policy,” Lugo said.

Lugo said faculty members were happy to see some concessions, including a change to the policy’s language that would allow individual schools to decide on punishments for those found in violation of the policy rather than a system-wide mandates of specific punishments. That was a change also sought by civil liberties groups.

The committee also firmed up some of the ambiguous language in the policy, giving specific examples of things that would constitute a “substantial” disturbance. But students, faculty and staff members said they’re still concerned the policy will be misused to target political speech with which the conservative General Assembly and Board of Governors disagrees.

“This is as inclusive a policy for vetting a policy as I’ve seen,” said board member David Powers. “A lot of compromises were made to get to a final policy.”

“There’s no way you can satisfy everyone,” Powers said. “But everybody has had a chance to have their say.”

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