HILL: One giant leap for free speech at UNC Chapel Hill 

The Old Well on the campus of The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Board of Trustees struck a blow for free speech and thought at Carolina last week on Thursday, Jan. 25. 

As first reported by the Wall Street Journal ― and, interestingly so, not announced by the Chancellor ― “UNC will establish the School of Civic Life and Leadership and plans to hire professors from across the ideological spectrum to teach in such academic departments as history, literature, philosophy, political science and religion. These disciplines have become enforcers of ideological uniformity at most schools. Board Chair David Boliek and Vice Chair John Preyer tell us that the idea is to end “political constraints on what can be taught in university classes.” 

No one could believe the news when it broke. “This has to be from The Babylon Bee (a spoof site)” one distinguished alum said. 

The next response was more telling ― why does any major college or university in America have to be forced to teach — or allow — civil discourse, free inquiry and free speech in the first place? Isn’t the telos — the purpose — of a university supposed to be a safe place where all ideas can be openly discussed in a civil manner? 

The ancient Greeks took great joy in being proven wrong after contentious debate about a hypothesis. To them, being proven wrong meant they were that much closer to uncovering the truth about life and the cosmos. They would celebrate with much wine and celebration. 

Liberal professors and administration officials would never celebrate being proven wrong in public. They are afraid of rigorous and open debate or else they would welcome conservative thought on campus. They enjoy being surrounded by like-minded believers who will not challenge them. That is why they support suppression of free speech, cancellation of speeches by conservatives and not hiring conservative professors to join their august faculty. 

Far from being comforting and affirming about the establishment of the Center, UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz issued the following statement a full day after the WSJ broke the news: 

“I appreciate the encouragement of our Board to build on the work we have done and I share the ideal that our students are served by learning to listen, engage, and seek different perspectives that contribute to robust public discourse. Any proposed degree program or school will be developed and led by our faculty, deans, and provost. Our faculty are the marketplace of ideas and they will build the curriculum and determine who will teach it, just as they determined the capacities laid out in our new IDEAs in Action Curriculum”. 

The “work we have done” at Carolina to insure free and unfettered speech has been meager at best. According to an article in UNC’s own Daily Tar Heel (DTH), a majority of conservative students at Carolina say they self-censor themselves in class. 80% of conservative students are afraid to speak out because of their fear of being ostracized on campus by liberal students who out-number them 4-to-1. 

What have the faculty and Chancellor Guskiewicz done that was so great if thousands of undergrads at Carolina are afraid to speak their mind freely in class or on campus?  Guskiewicz was Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences prior to becoming Chancellor while leftist faculty took control of the college curriculum in a way that has led to mass political indoctrination of students whether they like it or not. If “the work they have done” was working, no student at UNC would ever say they were afraid to talk in class or participate in a political activity on campus. 

Chancellor Guskiewicz says current faculty and deans will develop the curriculum for the new center. Isn’t that like letting the fox own the hen house?  Current faculty and deans haven’t established a fair environment at Carolina for free speech on their own up to this point in time ― there is no assurance they will do so if they gain control of the new Center either.  

He cited the Program for Public Discourse (PPD) as one example of progress. The most recent panel on reparations featured three panelists who supported massive taxpayer-funded payments to descendants of slaves without a single dissenting voice.  

If that is the UNC faculty’s definition of free and fair speech and debate, then “Houston, we really do have a problem”. 

The role of any university president or chancellor, public or private, is to provide an academic environment where every student can flourish.  Any president or chancellor who has not defended free speech 100% of the time for all parties deserves to be fired and relieved of their duties.  

The Center for Civic Life and Leadership at Carolina is the final exam for UNC Chancellor Guskiewicz and his administration.  Let’s hope they pass it.