by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor, John Locke Foundation
The James G. Martin Center has published a look at “How NC State Became Free-Speech Friendly.” Center president Jenna A. Robinson wrote the piece and the accompanying timeline.
Longtime friends of the John Locke Foundation know how dear this cause is to me. I have written in praise of the university’s Free Speech Tunnel, in dismay at its former willingness to betray its lesson and legacy, in praise of an academic understanding of diversity, and in dismay at its abandonment and paternalistic micromanagement of speech.
North Carolina State University is the most recent school to earn a “green light” from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for its speech policies.
Nearly ten years ago, when the Martin Center partnered with FIRE to take stock of speech restrictions at public and private universities across the state, we found no “green light” schools. That means that every school in North Carolina, at that time, regulated free speech to a significant extent. Some schools severely restricted student and faculty speech.
Moving a university from curtailing free speech on campus to protecting it is a momentous task. It often requires years of effort from students, professors, administrators, and public policy organizations like FIRE. Sometimes, it requires more: Lawsuits forcing universities to end unconstitutional restrictions on speech are common. …
Many people worked together to create change at NC State. Two professors, as well as the General Assembly’s directive that UNC schools protect free speech, were instrumental in starting the process. Political science professor Andrew Taylor and communications professor Jean Goodwin worked with FIRE’s attorneys to identify unconstitutional policies in NC State’s handbooks and regulations.
The article is illustrated by a picture of the Free Expression Tunnel. Apt.
As I described it in 2009:
In short, the Free Expression Tunnel is a robust monument to free speech, one that looks even stouter in comparison with other universities’ fearful, flaccid approach to speech, where anything that might be construed as potentially disrupting someone’s comfort is the worst thing imaginable. With “Tuffy” the Strutting Wolf mascot swaggering about with his chest thrust out proudly, however, it would simply not do for the university he represented to be a panic of screaming mimis when it came to an offensive graffito. This is a research university containing many of the state’s highest minds, after all.
As Robinson writes, the journey is not yet complete, but NC State has come far to reclaim this robust heritage.