Appalachian State, UNC-Wilmington earn ‘green lights’ on free speech

By: Lindsay Marchello - Carolina Journal

RALEIGH — The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education — a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization backing free-speech and due-process rights on college campuses — awarded the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and Appalachian State University with a green light rating for fostering an environment that welcomes free speech.

The two schools join the ranks of six other North Carolina universities honored for their free-speech protections, further cementing North Carolina as the state with the most green lights. Nationwide, 33 universities have earned green lights.

“The important efforts taken by administrators at UNC-Wilmington and Appalachian are proof that, from the mountains in the west to the coastal areas of the east, free speech rights matter in North Carolina,” Azhar Majeed, vice president of policy reform at the FIRE, said in a press release.

The FIRE’s university speech code rating system is based on traffic lights, with green representing universities with speech-friendly policies and red representing universities with policies restricting students’ and faculties’ First Amendment rights. Yellow light universities have vaguely worded policies which could be used to limit free speech.

Both UNC-Wilmington and Appalachian State were yellow light universities before earning their green light status. After consulting with FIRE, the two universities revised and clarified their speech code policies.

“This freedom of expression is a critical part of a comprehensive academic experience for our students and a robust environment of critical inquiry for our faculty and staff,” said John Scherer II, general counsel at UNC-Wilmington. “We will continue to welcome the thoughtful and respectful exchange of ideas on our campus.”

J.J. Brown, the vice chancellor for student affairs at Appalachian State, voiced similar support for free speech protection on college campuses.

“Achieving green light status with FIRE affirms Appalachian’s longstanding commitment to open discussion, academic freedom, and respect for differences of opinion and belief,” Brown said.

House Bill 257, Restore/Preserve Campus Free Speech, became state law earlier this month without Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature. The bill requires the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors to enact a systemwide free speech policy for all students and faculty.

Lindsay Marchello is a staff writer for Carolina Journal.

Lindsay Marchello

Carolina Journal