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May 8, 2017

U of C Reports Cited in North Carolina Law

By Alex Ward   

The University’s 2015 Stone Report and 1967 Kalven Report were recently mentioned in a law that passed the North Carolina house in April, which would require state universities to adopt policies to prevent restrictions of free speech.

The law would apply to schools across the University of North Carolina (UNC) school system, covering seventeen campuses throughout the state. If it goes on to pass in the state senate and is approved by the governor, Democrat Roy Cooper, the law will take effect at the end of June.

According to the current version of the law, universities would be required to implement a “range of disciplinary sanctions” that target individuals who disrupt the university’s general functioning or interfere with the free expression of fellow members of the public. They would also have to include a section on university’s free expression policies in their freshman orientation programs.

The law would also require the UNC Board of Governors to assign 11 of its members to a Committee on Free Expression, which would report to the North Carolina state government and the public every September. Unlike the seven-member UChicago committee that was dissolved after it completed the Stone Report, the UNC Committee is envisioned as permanent body tasked with logging the Universities’ progress on complying with the law’s many other requirements.

The University of Chicago’s reports are mentioned in the introduction to the North Carolina bill. The section that mentions them is quoted directly from a law proposal released on January 31 by the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank based in Arizona. The Institute’s 25-page proposal criticizes university students for supporting perceived attacks on free speech, such as disinviting speakers, and suggests templates for laws that target free speech violations and mandate university neutrality on controversial issues.

The Kalven Report, named for its committee chairman Harry Kalven, Jr., established the University of Chicago’s policy of institutional neutrality on divisive political and social issues. The more recent Stone Report reaffirmed that the University holds free speech as one of its fundamental principles. Excerpts from both reports are included in a model policy statement that the Goldwater Institute suggests universities could adopt, in keeping with the proposed law’s requirements. One of the sections of the Stone report included in the statement argues that “concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.”

The section of the proposal that specifically discusses the University praises Dean of Students John Ellison’s letter to the class of 2020 sent out in August 2016. The section concludes, “As with the Woodward report, the model legislation offered in this brief draws inspiration from the University of Chicago’s long history of publicly defending the primacy of free expression on campus.”

The Goldwater Institute also cites Yale University’s 1974 Woodward Report as one of its sources. That report concluded that “even when some members of the university community fail to meet their social and ethical responsibilities, the paramount obligation of the university is to protect their right to free expression”.

Bills inspired by the Goldwater proposal have been introduced in Colorado, Tennessee, and Illinois, although the Colorado bill does not contain references to the University of Chicago and the Tennessee bill only cites the Stone Report, which it refers to as the “Chicago Principles”. Arizona passed a similar law in 2016, and the text of the Goldwater Institute Proposal notes that members of the Institute helped develop another law that year which banned campus “free speech zones.” Free speech zones are areas of a college campus designated for forms of free speech like protests that could otherwise be considered disruptive, with the implication that the rest of campus does not allow such expression.

The laws, as well as the original report by the Goldwater Institute, comes in the wake of several high-profile cases of university students objecting to controversial guest speakers, often resulting in the rescinding of the speakers’ invitations and protests, some of which have ended in violence. Over the past academic year, campus protests have resulted in the cancellation of an appearance by alt-right journalist Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley. Conservative political commentator Ann Coulter also pulled out of a speech engagement at Berkeley last week, citing safety concerns from the groups that had originally invited her.

At the University in February 2016, then–Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez left an event at the Institute of Politics (IOP) after protesters entered and began chanting, refusing to leave when asked by IOP staff.

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