On July 27, the University of North Carolina (UNC)–Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees made a strong, new commitment to safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus. Colleges and universities face immense pressure to comport with majority beliefs, but UNC’s trustees proactively resolved to maintain institutional neutrality on controversial political and social issues.
The trustees’ unanimous resolution built on the previous work of the faculty. To the credit of the UNC Faculty Assembly, it adopted in 2018 the Chicago Principles on Freedom of Expression, an action affirmed by the trustees in March 2021. The faculty resolution read, in part, “By reaffirming a commitment to full and open inquiry, robust debate, and civil discourse we also affirm the intellectual rigor and open-mindedness that our community may bring to any forum where difficult, challenging, and even disturbing ideas are presented.”
The trustees took a remarkable further step. In addition to confirming once more the decision of the Faculty Assembly, they put the university in the vanguard of institutions committed to a robust heterodoxy of views and opinions by also adopting what is known as the Kalven Committee Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action. The UNC resolution notes that the Kalven Report “recognizes that the neutrality of the University on social and political issues ‘arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints’ and further acknowledges ‘a heavy presumption against the university taking collective action or expressing opinions on the political and social issues of the day.’”
In an interview with me, UNC Trustee Dr. Perrin Jones, who introduced the resolution, observed that the unanimity of the board reflected its desire for public affirmation of the university’s commitment to be a forum for open and vigorous debate, which cannot happen without institutional neutrality. Board members embrace, in Dr. Jones’s words, the “high bar” of living up to these “timeless principles.”
My new Forbes column is up. @UNC trustees struck a blow for freedom of speech, reaffirming their fealty to the Chicago Principles on Free Expression. They went one step further & paired that with a promise to maintain institutional neutrality. Inspiring. https://t.co/ze4KrVZ7GV
— Michael B. Poliakoff (@PoliakoffACTA) August 18, 2022