Chapel Hill, N.C. — The statewide discrimination law that lawmakers passed last month could have a "chill" on University of North Carolina campuses, UNC President Margaret Spellings said Friday.
Spellings said House Bill 2, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, was hastily enacted, and she plans to work with the General Assembly to amend the law once UNC administrators can review its potential impact on the 17-campus system.
In addition to requiring people to use bathrooms that correspond to their biological gender, the law creates a statewide employment and public accommodations discrimination policy that excludes protections for LGBT people and blocks cities and counties from extending protections to them.
"You all would be mistaken if you thought we were not concerned about the kind of chill this is having as it relates to the climate, the culture, the goodwill that we attempt to engender here on university campuses as it relates to free expression (and) diversity," she said in a conference call with reporters.
Spellings said she is talking to U.S. Department of Education officials about the law and the possible loss of federal financial aid support and research grants because of any violations of federal anti-discrimination laws.
She said she also worries about the law's impact on recruiting students, faculty and staff to UNC campuses. The law is already causing anxiety on campuses, where several student protests have been held in recent days.
"I think broadly there's a sense, a fear, an anger, questions about what's next," she said.
On Tuesday, Spellings sent a memo to chancellors across the system, telling them they need to abide by the law and designate any multiple-occupancy bathrooms on the various campuses for single-gender use. She said campuses are free to have as many gender-neutral single-occupancy bathrooms as they want.
The UNC system doesn't plan to patrol bathrooms to enforce the law, however, she said Friday.
The memo "is in no way an endorsement of this law," Spellings said, but as a state official, she must uphold it.
"I’ve been concerned this guidance has engendered a belief we are driving hard forward with support for the law, and that’s not the case," she said. "We pride ourselves as institutions of diversity, inclusion, academic freedom, free speech, free expression.
"Anything that undermines that is a concern to me," she added.
Students said they hope Spellings backs up her words with actions.
"One of the most important things on this campus is respect and respecting our students," said Raven Norton, a UNC-Chapel Hill sophomore from Rocky Mount. "If you have to abide by it, make sure they respect the students."
In her memo to chancellors, Spellings also noted that no campus would have to change its anti-discrimination policies and "must take prompt and appropriate action to prevent and address any instances of harassment and discrimination in violation of University policies."
Tom Shanahan, general counsel for the UNC system, reiterated that Friday, saying the law allows governmental agencies such as university campuses to apply their own policies to their own employees.