UNC officials OK with revised 'free speech' bill

Posted April 24

— Less than a week after a bill to "restore and preserve campus free speech" throughout the University of North Carolina system failed in a House committee, a revised version resurfaced Monday night and sailed through with the approval of UNC officials.

House Bill 527 calls for the UNC Board of Governors to craft a policy on free expression that can be limited only by "narrowly tailored viewpoint- and content-neutral restrictions on time, place, and manner of expression" and includes a range of disciplinary sanctions for anyone who "substantially disrupts the functioning of the constituent institution or substantially interferes with the protected free expression rights of others."

The revised version allows each campus to tailor its restrictions and discipline as needed.

It also did away with a provision that required campuses to remain neutral on "public policy controversies of the day," saying only that the overall policy should prohibit schools from taking an action "in such a way as to require students, faculty, or administrators to publicly express a given view of social policy." And it dropped a new private right to sue over alleged violations of free-speech rights, instead stating the the Board of Governors and campus officials couldn't be held personally liable for actions taken under the law, such as removing protesters who threaten campus operations or individual safety.

Tom Shanahan, general counsel for the UNC system, told members of the House Committee on Education - Universities that the changes addressed the major concerns of UNC officials.

Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, cast the lone vote against the bill in committee, calling the proposal unnecessary.

"It feels like in loco parentis, that the children can't take care of themselves so we have to step in," Insko said.

The bill next heads to the House Judiciary I Committee.


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