by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The latest Martin Center column adapts a recent speech from Stanley Kurtz about a new state law focusing on campus free speech.
My focus today is on the implementation of the North Carolina Campus Free Speech Act. How you go about implementing the Act could set the national standard. In particular, North Carolina will be the first state to issue an annual oversight report, another distinctive feature of Goldwater-based bills. Other model campus free speech bills either have no oversight system at all or depend on administrators to report on themselves. Obviously, they’re going to give themselves a hearty pat on the back. But Goldwater-based bills create oversight systems run by university trustees, the bosses of administrators.
In the narrow sense, the annual oversight report has only the power of sunlight and persuasion. By itself, that report cannot mandate anything. Yet because it comes from a committee controlled by the university’s Board of Governors, administrators will have to take it seriously. And because the oversight committee must issue its report to the governor, the general assembly, and to the public, the oversight committee will be liable to criticism should they whitewash genuine problems in the administrative handling of campus free speech.
Potentially, the annual oversight report has tremendous power.
First, there is the power of sunlight and persuasion. Second, should the annual oversight report criticize the administrative handling of campus free speech, we would expect to see some reaction. Either administrators will respond to suggestions for reform by their bosses, or they’ll have to worry about consequences for themselves. Third, a negative annual oversight report would provide legislators with reason to reconsider the level of their appropriations for the university, at least in the absence of action by administrators to meet the report’s concerns.