This story originally published online at NC Policy Watch.
UNC-Chapel Hill is among the the 10 worst colleges in the nation for free speech, according to an annual roundup by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
The non-partisan group, dedicated to free speech and academic freedom on campuses, cited last year’s controversy over the university’s botched hiring of Nikole Hannah-Jones, a story first reported by NC Policy Watch. The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees appeared to resist a vote on tenure for the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist “based on Hannah-Jones’ viewpoint,” FIRE wrote.
But the university “went from bad to worse,” the organization said, when it began reading the e-mails of faculty members who had been critical of the Board of Governors to determine who may have leaked a donor agreement the school made with Walter Hussman, the wealthy Chapel Hill alum who lobbied against Hannah-Jones’ hire behind the scenes for months before the issue came to a head publicly.
Policy Watch wrote about the investigation in August.
From FIRE’s critique:
Specifically, UNC targeted journalism professors Deb Aikat and Daniel Kreiss, who both have given interviews or spoken out on social media about their frustration with the university’s handling of Hannah-Jones’ tenure bid. UNC called Aikat and Kreiss in for investigatory meetings, claiming it was doing its due diligence to discover who had disclosed the allegedly confidential donor agreement between UNC and Walter Hussman—the mega donor after whom UNC’s journalism school is named.
The problem? Neither Aikat nor Kreiss had access to the donor agreement before it was widely distributed. Thus, it would have been difficult for either professor to be the source of the alleged leak, making the investigation’s focus on them appear to be retaliation for their criticism of the university. On the other hand, numerous administrators, development personnel, and administrative staff did have access to the document before its wide distribution.
Making the investigation into Aikat and Kreiss more concerning is the university’s violation of its own Privacy and Electronic Information Policy, which provides that the university will generally not look through the emails of faculty members. By surveilling the emails of faculty critics, UNC brazenly ignored both this policy and basic notions of academic freedom.
The full list of FIRE’s 10 worst campuses for free speech, in alphabetical order:
- Boise State University (Boise, Idaho)
- Collin College (McKinney, Texas)
- Emerson College (Boston, Mass.)
- Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.)
- Linfield University (McMinnville, Ore.)
- Stanford University (Stanford, Calif.)
- Tarleton State University (Stephenville, Texas)
- University of Florida (Gainesville, Fla.)
- University of Illinois Chicago (Chicago, Ill.)
- University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
Yale University also received a “Lifetime Censorship Award,” which the FIRE said it reserves for “those colleges that deserve special recognition for their commitment to censorship.”
“Each of these colleges had the opportunity to restore the student and faculty voices they censored — but leaders deliberately chose not to do so,” said Greg Lukianoff, FIRE president and CEO, in a statement from the group. “We don’t back down. If college leadership is willing to muzzle, censor, and punish their own students and faculty members, the public should know. And prospective students and faculty applicants should take notice of which colleges will go to outrageous lengths to silence their voices. FIRE will continue to advocate for free expression at these campuses and campuses across the country.”
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