North Carolina wants to legislate free speech on campus

Toto, I’m pretty sure we’re not in Kansas anymore. In fact, I’m no longer entirely sure that we’re in the United States. The same nation which was founded by a group of upstart pamphleteers who dared to challenge the conventional wisdom and traditions of Europe has now reached the point where one of the original colonies feels it has to pass a law so that students on college campuses can actually hear a variety of opinions. At National Review, Sapna Rampersaud urges the Governor of North Carolina to sign the pending legislation into law.

Over the past year, speakers on college campuses have increasingly been disinvited, silenced, and maltreated. The General Assembly of North Carolina has taken notice: On June 30, it passed a bill, HB 527, aimed at restoring and preserving free speech at the University of North Carolina. The bill now awaits the signature of Governor Roy Cooper, who has not said whether he intends to approve it and must, according to his office, make a decision by July 30.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, FIRE, has an online database that enumerates all the speakers who have been disinvited to speak on college campuses since 2000. In the past year and a half, there have been 54 cases (43 in 2016 and 11 in 2017) in which a college attempted to disinvite a speaker, a college successfully revoked a speaker’s invitation, or a speaker was silenced because interruptions, protests, or physical harm stopped him or her from speaking.

All of the wording in the bill sounds somewhat on the vague side considering the urgency of the issue. It aims to mandate the, “freedom to discuss any problem that presents itself” on campus at the University of North Carolina. All of the public ares are to be considered public forums which shall be made available to any speaker invited by groups of students or faculty. “Disciplinary sanctions” are mentioned for people interfering with such appearances, though what those might be isn’t specified as far as I can tell. (I suppose it’s left up to the school?)

Much of this seems immediately problematic because a concerted effort by either the students or the staff could quickly flood the calendar with potentially disruptive events each and every week of the year. The students are supposed to be there primarily to get an education, right? And if you’re turning the monitoring and enforcement of this law over to some ambiguous “committee” composed of campus denizens, you might not be solving the root problem.

But most all, how sad is it that we’ve come to the point where anyone felt that such a law was needed? There are always conflicts over free speech in more restricted venues or public squares where large crowds can disrupt normal travel and commerce. But… schools? Our universities were once the cauldrons where all manner of speech bubbled away, sometimes including the most wildly radical expressions of opinion imaginable from all parts of the spectrum of thought. But now liberal snowflakes have essentially lowered a cone of silence over all but the most carefully vetted and approved speech which sates the desires of the Social Justice Warriors. So we apparently need a law to prevent this from happening.

It’s pretty sad, all in all.