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University Policy 133

Free Speech and Free Expression

Initially Approved:  June 6, 2023
Policy Topic:  Governance and Administration

Administering Offices:  Chancellor’s Office; Legal Counsel’s Office

I. Scope

Western Carolina University protects and promotes free speech and free expression for its students, faculty members, staff employees, and visitors under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 14 of the North Carolina Constitution, consistent with First Amendment jurisprudence.

II. Policy Statement

The North Carolina General Assembly has established that the primary function of the University is the discovery, improvement, transmission, and dissemination of knowledge by means of research, teaching, discussion, and debate.[1] To fulfill this function, the University strives to ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression, consistent with the University’s Mission Statement, Core Values and Guiding Principles, and Vision. It is not the proper role of Western Carolina University to shield individuals – including faculty, staff, and students – from speech protected by the First Amendment, including, without limitation, ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, distasteful, or even deeply offensive.[2] As the Supreme Court has emphatically declared, "[i]f there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable."[3]

III. Role of Free Expression As It Relates to Mission of the University

The University’s mission includes the transmission and advancement of knowledge and understanding, the pursuit of which is dependent upon the ability of our faculty and students to remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding.[4] The University supports and encourages freedom of inquiry for faculty members and students, to the end that they may responsibly pursue these goals through teaching, learning, research, discussion, and publication, free from internal or external restraints that would unreasonably restrict their academic endeavors.[5] The University has explicitly stated that faculty and students of the University share the responsibility for maintaining an environment in which academic freedom flourishes and in which the rights of each member of the academic community are respected.[6]

IV. Free Expression

The University’s role in supporting and encouraging freedom of inquiry requires assuring opportunities for the expression of differing views regarding many issues in multiple areas of study, research, and debate, including current political and social issues. In support of the essential role the University holds in encouraging and broadly protecting freedom of thought and expression, the University may not take action, as an institution, on the public policy controversies of the day in such a way as to require students, faculty, or administrators to publicly express a given view of social or political policy.[7]

To that end, students, staff, and faculty have the freedom to discuss any problem that presents itself, as the First Amendment permits and within the limits of viewpoint- and content-neutral restrictions on time, place, and manner of expression that are necessary to achieve a significant institutional interest.[8]

V. Types of Speech and expression Not Protected by Policy

The University shall be allowed to restrict speech and expression for activity not protected by the First Amendment under State or federal law, including but not limited to, all of the following:

  1. Expression that a court has deemed unprotected defamation.[9]
  2. Unlawful harassment.[10] Please see University Policy 53 for more information on unlawful harassment.
  3. True threats, which are defined as, “statements meant by the speaker to communicate a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.”[11] True threats are evaluated based upon an objective standard, which is “whether a reasonable person would foresee that the statement would be interpreted by those to whom the maker communicates the statement as a serious expression of intent to harm or assault.”[12]
  4. An unjustifiable invasion of privacy or confidentiality not involving a matter of public concern.[13]
  5. An action that materially and substantially disrupts the functioning of the University, any unit or entity of the University, or that substantially interferes with the protected free expression rights of others.[14]
  6. Reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on expressive activities, consistent with G.S. 116-300(4).[15]
  7. Speech that interferes with the treatment of patients.[16]

VI. Responsible Officers

Attorneys in the Office of Legal Counsel and Institutional Integrity are the University’s designated “Responsible Officers,” charged with ensuring compliance with the University’s free speech and expression policies and for answering any related questions or concerns, in accordance with UNC System Policy 1300.8.  Should you or your unit have any such questions or concerns, please contact the designated Responsible Officers.

VII. Related Policies and Resources

University Policy 82: Facilities Use and Public Art

University Policy 114: Solicitation, the Distribution of Materials, and Public Displays

University Policy 115: Trespassing on University Property

Article 36 of Chapter 116 of the North Carolina General Statutes: Campus Free Speech

UNC Code Section 1300.8: Policy on Free Speech and Free Expression Within the University of North Carolina System


[1] N.C.G.S. § 116-300(1)
[2] N.C.G.S. § 116-300(2) and Section 1300.8 of the UNC Policy Manual, Paragraph II.
[3] Saxe v. State Coll. Area Sch. Dist., 240 F.3d 200, 209 (3d Cir.2001) (quoting Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 414, 109 S.Ct. 2533, 105 L.Ed.2d 342 (1989)).
[4] See Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234, 250 (1957).
[5] Section 600(1) of The Code. See also Section 700.4.2 of the UNC Policy Manual.
[6] Section 600(3) of The Code. See also Section 700.4.2 of the UNC Policy Manual.
[7] Section 1300.8 of the UNC Policy Manual, Paragraph III.
[8] Section 1300.8 of the UNC Policy Manual, Paragraph IV.
[9] N.C.G.S. § 116-303(a)(2).
[10] N.C.G.S. § 116-303(a)(3).
[11] Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343, 123 S.Ct. 1536 (2003).
[12] U.S. v. Orozco-Santillan, 903 F.2d 1262, 1265 (9th Cir.1990), overruled in part on other grounds, United States v. Hanna, 293 F.3d 1080 (9th Cir.2002).
[13] N.C.G.S. § 116-303(a)(5).
[14] See University Policy 134 and UNC Policy Manual 1300.8 for more information on material and substantial disruptions. See also, Tinker v. Des Moines School District, 393 U.S. at 513, 89 S.Ct. at 740; Grayned v. Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 116-18, 92 S.Ct. 2294 (1972).
[15] N.C.G.S. § 116-303(a)(7). See also Perry Education Assn. v. Perry Local Educators' Assn., 460 U.S. 37, 45-46, 103 S.Ct. 948 (1983); City of Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc., 475 U.S. 41, 46, 106 S.Ct. 925 (1986)
[16] N.C.G.S. § 116-303(a)(8).

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