As students, faculty and administrators at North Carolina’s colleges and universities struggle with questions of free speech and academic freedom, veteran leaders in higher education — including a former chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill — are urging them to speak up on difficult issues.
Last week Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, cited a a recent Chronicle of Higher Education survey that found 80 percent of presidents said they would self-censor their comments on national political issues “to avoid creating a controversy for themselves or their colleges.”
Last year, when the first in a series of student surveys on speech issues found 68 percent of conservative students at UNC-Chapel Hill reported self-censoring, it was regarded as a crisis by Republican leaders and activists in the state.
But the consequences for the leaders and representatives of college and universities self-censoring at a volatile time in the nation’s history are perhaps more dire, McGuire wrote in her guest column for The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“The implications for the future of higher education and this nation are dire if we presidents fail to break out of our posture of self-censorship and take our rightful places in the bully pulpit,” McGuire wrote.
In late July the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees adopted both the “Chicago Principles” and the conclusions of the “Kalven Committee Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action” in late July.
The “Chicago Principles,” crafted at the University of Chicago in 2014, affirm free expression as essential to university culture. Dozens of colleges, universities, and student and faculty groups have adopted them, including the UNC-Chapel Hill Faculty Council in 2018.
But the principles are not without controversy. Political conservatives, many who believe right-wing speech and ideology are suppressed in academia, support the principles. Some educators believe they preserve free, open and rigorous debate on campuses. Yet others say they fail to address some of the thorniest issues about free expression on campus and can be used to justify ignoring or curtailing student activism.
Far more controversial is the Kalven report, a product of the tumultuous political environment on campuses in the late 1960s. Few colleges or universities have adopted the conclusions of the report. Its critics at UNC system schools say it’s easy to see why: The report emphasizes that a university should stay neutral on controversial political issues.
In adopting the Kalven report, the UNC Board of Trustees said it “recognizes that the neutrality of the University on social and political issues ‘arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints.’
The report “further acknowledges ‘a heavy presumption against the university taking collective action or expressing opinions on the political and social issues of the day,’” the trustees wrote in their resolution of support.
McGuire rejected the idea that colleges and universities have an obligation to be neutral in times of political upheaval and controversy.
From her piece: Read more