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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University leaders answer questions about free speech and Confederate Monument


Dear Campus Community:

At this time of year, I am normally writing to our community, many of you for the first time, welcoming you to campus and sharing my excitement about the opportunities that await you. I will be doing that in the coming days, and taking as many opportunities as possible to meet and greet you.

Sadly, the tragic and deplorable events at the University of Virginia and in Charlottesville over the weekend have taken precedence not only here at Carolina, but at colleges and universities across the nation at the start of the academic year. I want to begin by emphasizing our core values and reminding everyone that your safety and well-being are my and the University’s most important priorities.

The scenes of violence, torch- and gun-bearing protestors, and people wearing KKK and Nazi symbols and shouting hateful slogans were terrifying and have no place on our campuses or in our society. At Carolina, diversity, inclusion and freedom of speech are at our core and truly living up to them can be difficult. We know that the strength of our community comes from the differences that we each bring. Outpourings of hate, violence and intimidation can tear apart the fabric of open communities like ours, and we need to be vigilant against them.

Many of you have expressed concerns about how similar events might affect our campus and community. I asked Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Mark Merritt, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Winston Crisp and Police Chief Jeff McCracken to address some of your questions related to the First Amendment, laws governing the Confederate Monument and outside speakers, as well as to provide information on resources available to students, faculty and staff. I encourage you to take the time to read this helpful and timely information.* These issues are complex, and we welcome your questions and concerns. This is just the start of our conversation this academic year on these important topics facing our campus and our country.

College campuses, like Carolina, are homes to the nation’s dreams about the potential for the future. We thrive on the diversity of people and opinion, and grow through honest debate and quests for new knowledge. Every one of us has the responsibility to uphold our shared values. Together, we make Carolina a place where great ideas can be shared, debated and where we all feel safe.


Carol L. Folt, Chancellor

Message about First Amendment protections, outside speakers, Confederate Monument

Dear Carolina Community:

In the aftermath of the horrific events in Charlottesville last weekend, Chancellor Folt asked us to clarify the federal and state laws that affect how a public university like Carolina must handle free speech issues. While we have faced questions about free speech and the Confederate Monument for years, the extreme provocation we witnessed last weekend presents a very different kind of threat. While our long and proud tradition of protecting free speech on this campus is unchanged, we must acknowledge the current environment and redouble our commitment to ensuring the safety of our campus community.

We know many students, faculty and staff have questions and concerns, especially since the General Assembly passed a new Free Speech Act over the summer. We write today to share the facts about three major areas – First Amendment protections, outside speakers coming to campus, and the Confederate Monument in McCorkle Place. It is important to note that public universities are subject to state laws that may not necessarily apply to private institutions.

First Amendment Protections

Our University is governed by the First Amendment, the North Carolina Free Speech Act, and the University Facilities Use policy, available at Individual campus buildings and departments may have specific facilities use policies. These laws and policies are the basis for the guidance that follows.

  The First Amendment prohibits the University from “abridging the freedom of speech,” which includes speech that is offensive or hateful. Extremely hateful, hurtful speech is protected under the First Amendment. For example, in 1977 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of the National Socialist Party of America (Nazis) to march in public spaces.

  As a public university, we cannot prohibit a person from coming to campus because the University community does not agree with what that person has to say or because the speech would be offensive to most people. However, it is critical that the campus community understands that complying with the law does not mean the University – in any way – endorses such speech.

  The University is permitted to set limits that are not related to the content of the speech. This includes setting reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. For example, the University allows the rental of certain campus facilities for third-party events, while other spaces are reserved for exclusive University use. The University also has the right to prevent speakers from disrupting classrooms or work environments.

  This summer, the North Carolina Legislature passed The Free Speech Act, which requires public universities to educate students about free speech issues during orientation. We are awaiting direction from UNC General Administration as to what this covers and how it will be implemented. This is our first pass at informing you.

Outside Speakers

  North Carolina law allows outside speakers to come to campus and rent certain University facilities. Public speech is also allowed in certain outside areas as long as the speech is not disruptive to the operation of the University. Part of the University’s obligation under the First Amendment is to treat all speakers equally, regardless of the content of their speech.

  Just as the University cannot refuse access based on the content of someone’s speech, the University must protect the safety of the speaker and attendees regardless of content.

  The Free Speech Act requires the University to implement a range of disciplinary actions for students and employees who substantially interfere with another person’s protected free speech rights. This includes protests that limit the ability of others to hear a speaker.

• The University can take steps to preserve safety on campus and to prevent threats of harm to others by controlling access to facilities and prohibiting certain items.

  Where speech crosses into incitement to riot or other violent acts, the law permits the University to take immediate action to enforce security, such as dispersing and managing crowds.

Confederate Monument

  The Cultural History Artifact Management and Patriotism Act of 2015 prohibits state agencies including the University, from permanently removing any object of remembrance – defined as a “monument, memorial, plaque, statue, marker, or display of a permanent character that commemorates an event, person or military service that is part of North Carolina’s history.”

  The Confederate Monument, commonly known as “Silent Sam,” is a state-owned monument and an object of remembrance as defined by the law.

The events in Charlottesville have been deeply troubling. Please know that if you need to talk or would like help, as always, counseling services are available for students, and for faculty and staff. This topic will also be the subject of the academic year’s first Carolina Conversation, with more details to follow.

Notwithstanding all of this information, the safety and security of our community and its people are our top priority. We look forward to continuing this important conversation and engaging the University community on the topic of the First Amendment and free speech in the coming weeks.


Winston Crisp, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs

Mark Merritt, Vice Chancellor and General Counsel

Jeff McCracken, Chief of Police