Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity

Civil rights and discrimination are among the most controversial subjects that state and local leaders must discuss. But they are also crucial issues that involve the core values of our political system: equality before the law, personal freedom, and the dignity of the individual. Affirmative action, originally proposed as a device for extending educational and employment opportunities to minorities and women previously excluded from fair and open competition, has in far too many cases become discrimination itself. Likewise, unconstitutional policies by public universities to outlaw intolerant speech on grounds of race, gender, etc., run serious risks of discriminating against viewpoints. The resulting disaffection and anger threatens to pull our society apart at the seams.

Discrimination and Its Enemies

Discrimination against women, racial minorities, and other groups is not only a historical legacy in North Carolina — it continues to be a reality in many workplaces and communities. When businesses discriminate on the basis of race or other factors, they are putting their own prejudices before the goal of maximizing profits and performance and will pay the price in the marketplace. In governmental services such as education and health care, the continued existence of discrimination is unjust, costly, and embarrassing, and it should never be tolerated in a state and nation devoted to principles of individual liberty and dignity.

Some of the tools currently used to combat discrimination, however, have themselves become egregious violations of the principle of individual liberty and equal opportunity. In state government, a 1987 executive order established a goal of buying four percent of state goods and services from minorities, women, and the disabled. The General Assembly has created a separate 10-percent goal for state highway and other construction projects. Formal and informal employment targets and quotas exist throughout state government. Furthermore, many local governments in North Carolina have contracting and employment quotas of their own.

Race-based discrimination is especially prevalent in the University of North Carolina system. UNC awards so-called "minority presence grants" to black students who attend majority-white institutions as well as to whites who attend majority-black institutions. At least some UNC campuses also use race as a factor in the admissions process. A 2004 study by public policy Professor David J. Armor of George Mason University, presented before the Virginia Association of Scholars annual meeting, found that at North Carolina State University, the odds of a black student being admitted were 13 times greater than the odds of a white student being admitted with the same qualifications.

Discrimination at the admissions level also makes it more difficult for those admitted for factors besides academics to achieve their goal of graduating. Most of those students would likely end up at other UNC campuses, such as Greensboro or Charlotte, or other public or private colleges geared toward their preparation levels for collegiate work. Of course, the black students who are academically prepared to succeed at Chapel Hill or Raleigh would not be affected. But studies have consistently found that students admitted for reasons unrelated to their own academic preparation, such as race, drop out at higher rates. The plight of black students in North Carolina is caused not by a lack of affirmative action at the college level, but instead the poor preparation they receive in public schools (see chart below).

The stated goal of affirmative action is unassailable, but the way affirmative action is practiced today is only increasing racial animosity. The principles of equal opportunity aren't breached by such commendable policies as outreach programs to ensure applicants of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are aware of opportunities for employment, contracts, and education. Using merit-based selections after making sure to "cast the net widely," states and localities can best serve the interests of all citizens.

Racial preferences also fail to help the most disadvantaged minorities, for whom hiring and higher education preferences are irrelevant. The state could address their needs far more directly by solving these problems: (1) public schools not effectively preparing them for citizenship and employment, (2) state and local law enforcement failing to protect them from criminal predators, (3) programs fostering dependency over self-sufficiency, and (4) government limiting their economic options by imposing barriers to economic growth and entrepreneurship.

First Amendment Rights and Discrimination Against Speech

Most UNC system campuses want to combat discrimination by speech codes that prohibit "statements of intolerance" (N.C. Central), "offensive speech ... of a biased or prejudicial nature" (UNC-Pembroke), "disrespect for persons" (UNC-Greensboro), etc. A 2005 study conducted for the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, "The State of the First Amendment in The University of North Carolina System," found that 13 of the 16 UNC schools had at least one policy that "both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech" and could not survive a constitutional challenge. The report stated that UNC "member institutions have run roughshod over [constitutional] rights in the name of tolerance and civility."

By and large, UNC officials seem to share former UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser's view that they must resolve "tension" between the First Amendment's protection of speech and the Fourteenth Amendment's equal-protection provisions. As public universities, however, UNC campuses are bound to uphold all of the Constitutional rights of its students. Since the Pope Center report was released, both Appalachian State and Fayetteville State have repealed unconstitutional portions of their policies regarding speech.

Recommendations

1. North Carolina state and local governments should eliminate all preferences, quotas, goals, and targets for suppliers, employment, and school admissions. Instead, government should vigorously enforce existing laws promoting equal opportunity and respect for the rights of all North Carolinians.

2. To expand opportunities for racial and other minorities in North Carolina to provide for themselves and their families, state and local leaders should offer private-school scholarships to students in low-performing school districts, expand efforts to combat crime, and promote true economic development across the state.

3. State and UNC system leaders should vigorously uphold the First Amendment's protection of speech rights, and they should teach as well as model for the next generation of scholars and leaders that the best way to smother the fires of offensive ideas and speech is not with tyranny, but with better ideas and speech.