Free speech policies have improved at ECU and UNC-Charlotte, watchdog group says

Two more UNC-system schools have earned top marks from a free speech watchdog group in Philadelphia.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which monitors free speech on U.S. college campuses, issued “green light” ratings for East Carolina University and UNC-Charlotte in the past week. North Carolina now has six “green light” campuses, the most in the nation.

N.C. Central University and UNC-Greensboro were upgraded to “green light” status in May. FIRE initially gave both institutions a “red light,” the worst rating.

UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University earned “green light” ratings in the initial report.

The new ratings for both ECU and UNC-Charlotte are an upgrade. They along with N.C. State University were given the lower “yellow light” rating in FIRE’s report last year.

Leaders at the Greenville campus made four changes to campus policies: revising two facility-use rules with a new free speech policy, and revising a computer-use policy and the “East Carolina Creed.”

“The East Carolina Creed previously made it mandatory to “respect and appreciate the diversity of our people, ideas, and opinions,” and to be “thoughtful and responsible in my words and actions,” which are requirements that could too easily be used to punish protected speech,” said Laura Beltz, FIRE’s policy reform program officer. “The creed now makes clear that this pledge is merely aspirational, rather than mandatory.”

Virginia Hardy, ECU vice chancellor for student affairs, said the university is committed to freedom of expression on its campus.

“We want our students, faculty, staff and guests to feel comfortable exercising their rights and exploring their ideas,” Hardy said in a news release. “Allowing the opportunity for freedom of expression and civil discourse around differing views has always been, and continues to be, a mainstay of institutions of higher learning.”

The Charlotte campus was recognized for tweaking policies related to harassment and computer usage and removing a third “bias assessment and response team” policy.

“The bias response team website provided a broad definition of a “bias incident” (“actions taken by an individual or group that was motivated by their preconceived bias targeting” a protected class) that could have been applied to punish protected speech,” Beltz said.