Message from UNC Asheville on the First Amendment and Free Speech

June 28, 2019

UNC Asheville is a public university, and we have a long tradition of protecting free speech. The free exchange of ideas is what makes ours a community of dynamic thought leaders, and we will continue to protect that right. At the same time, we are equally committed to the safety of our campus community.

We must uphold the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as a public institution, in addition to the General Assembly’s North Carolina Restore and Preserve Free Speech Act and a Board of Governors policy on free speech and free expression in the UNC System, both enacted in 2017.

At UNC Asheville, like all public universities, you will have the opportunity to hear from a wide range of speakers expressing many different viewpoints. Speakers may be invited by a school, department, or student organization, among others on our campus. The University, under certain conditions, rents some University facilities to speakers for their events. Public speech is also allowed in designated outside areas as long as the speech is not disruptive to the operation of the University.

Under the First Amendment, we cannot prohibit a person from speaking on campus because the University community does not agree with what that person has to say or because the speech is 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. 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. However, when 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.

The core of our UNC Asheville academic mission is clear and thoughtful expression, free and open inquiry, critical thinking, undergraduate research, and community engagement. At their best, universities are places where thoughtful discussions and respectful disagreements can take place. Students, faculty, staff, and the community benefit from conversations, lectures, and roundtables that strengthen our ability to think critically, to judge independently, and to ensure the expression of diverse views and ideas in accordance with the academic ideal of freedom of thought and expression and the robust exchange of ideas.