by Stanley Kurtz National Review Online July 31, 2017
With Governor Roy Cooper (D) taking no action on the bill, the state of North Carolina has enacted the Restore Campus Free Speech Act, the first comprehensive campus free-speech legislation based on the Goldwater proposal. That proposal, which I co-authored along with Jim Manley and Jonathan Butcher of Arizona’s Goldwater Institute, was released on January 31 and is now under consideration in several states. It’s fitting that North Carolina should be the first state to enact a Goldwater-inspired law.
North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest has been the guiding force behind the Restore Campus Free Speech Act and deserves great credit for moving it through the legislature. I’m particularly grateful to Forest, with whom I’ve been working since shortly after I laid out “A Plan to Restore Free Speech on Campus” here at NRO in late 2015. Forest and his staff provided critical early encouragement and support for the approach that eventuated in the Goldwater model bill. With the passage of the first state law based on that model, Forest has established himself as a national leader on campus free speech.
The final version of the North Carolina Restore Campus Free Speech Act passed by a margin of 80 to 31 in the House, with 10 Democratic ayes (about a quarter of the Democrats present). The final version passed the Senate by a margin of 34 to 11 along strict party lines. Given the intense party polarization in North Carolina, the substantially bipartisan House vote was impressive. Governor Cooper’s decision to let the bill become law with no action is also interesting and instructive.
The North Carolina Restore Campus Free Speech Act achieves most of what the Goldwater proposal sets out to do. It ensures that University of North Carolina policy will strongly affirm the importance of free expression. It prevents administrators from disinviting speakers whom members of the campus community wish to hear from. It establishes a system of disciplinary sanctions for students and anyone else who interferes with the free-speech rights of others, and ensures that students will be informed of those sanctions at freshman orientation. It reaffirms the principle that universities, at the official institutional level, ought to remain neutral on issues of public controversy to encourage the widest possible range of opinion and dialogue within the university itself. And it authorizes a special committee created by the Board of Regents to issue a yearly report to the public, the regents, the governor, and the legislature on the administrative handling of free-speech issues.
Although the University managed to weaken the bill at points, with one significant exception that weakening amounts to less than meets the eye. Some of the bill’s language on institutional neutrality was struck, for example, yet the law still affirms the importance of administrative neutrality.
The dependence of campus freedom of speech on institutional neutrality was famously affirmed by the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report of 1967. Likewise, the annual reports on campus free expression to be released in North Carolina will assess the university’s successes or failures at maintaining a posture of institutional neutrality. This will discourage the University from, say, joining the “fossil fuel” divestment campaign, or the campaign to boycott, divest, and sanction the state of Israel.
The University did manage to weaken the “cause of action” provision, which would have allowed anyone whose expressive rights under the new law were violated to recover reasonable court costs and attorney’s fees. However, individuals whose rights under the new law are violated still have the option of suing, and can turn to any number of organizations (e.g. the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Center for Individual Rights, or the Goldwater Institute) for representation. READ the Rest HERE
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