A Resolution Concerning Censorship at UNC–Chapel Hill

 

RESOLUTION OF THE EMPLOYEE FORUM

THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL

September 5, 2007

WHEREAS the Mission of the Employee Forum is to address constructively the concerns of Employees of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, including the representation of staff concerns to the University community, University officials, the Board of Trustees, the General Administration and the North Carolina General Assembly; and

 

WHEREAS the Forum traditionally publishes a newsletter for staff employees and other interested readers ten times per year online and once each year in the summer (usually July) as a four-page print insert in the University Gazette; and

 

WHEREAS in its Resolution 06-07, the Forum committed itself to “an education and information campaign” on the question of the repeal of N.C.G.S. 95-98, which forbids public employees to engage in collective bargaining; (1) and

 

WHEREAS coverage of other rapidly emerging issues of immediate concern to staff employees prevented the Communications Committee from taking up the mandate of Resolution 06-07 right away; and

 

WHEREAS legislation pending before the NC General Assembly in the 2007 legislative session made increased understanding about the issue of collective bargaining of renewed importance to staff employees by the spring of 2007; and

 

WHEREAS the Communications Committee therefore began a three-part series on this topic in its May 2007 issue; (2) but

 

WHEREAS on July 12, 2007, and again on July 13, 2007, the Gazette refused to publish the final article in this series as a part of the July 2007 print insert edition of the Forum’s newsletter; (3) and

 

WHEREAS the Gazette offered as justification for its actions the claim that the article was an opinion piece and the Gazette does not run opinion pieces; and

 

WHEREAS the Gazette offered as further justification the claim that the article addresses legislative priorities, and the Gazette does not print articles on such topics because the University has “a commitment…to work through UNC General Administration to communicate anything about the System’s legislative priorities”; (4) and

 

WHEREAS the Gazette rejected the Communications Committee’s statement that they did not consider the article to be an editorial opinion since it was a report of a UNC graduate student’s research, rejected a proposal that the Gazette print a statement of disclaimer over the censored article or over the entire newsletter insert, and likewise rejected a re-write of the article designed to try to address their perception that it was an opinion piece; and

 

WHEREAS the Forum’s newsletter is clearly printed as an insert under its own banner that distinguishes it from the Gazette and establishes it as a separate print entity; and

 

WHEREAS the Gazette does not ever post the yearly InTouch newsletter inserts on its website, which indicates that it historically has not considered the newsletter to be a part of the Gazette; and

 

WHEREAS in any event, in the past the Gazette has reported on opinions, even when those opinions were controversial; (5) and

 

WHEREAS in the past legislative issues have often been discussed in the Gazette; (6) and

 

WHEREAS another article in the current InTouch insert that was not censored by the Gazette spoke to legislative issues; (7) and

 

WHEREAS the subject matter of the censored article is a matter of pending legislation and thus a proper matter of public concern, which concerns the Courts have considered to be protected topics of public discussion under the First Amendment; (8) and

 

WHEREAS the mandate from former UNC System President Molly Broad that System legislative priorities should be directed by General Administration appeared to be a response to actions taken by some high-ranking administrators at UNC-Chapel Hill and other schools who had directly and privately contacted members of the Legislature to advocate for their schools’ individual interests rather than following protocol and pursuing those interests through General Administration; and

 

WHEREAS this directive from General Administration did not in any way appear to be directed at staff employees, did not appear to be intended to prohibit University employees from publicly discussing matters of interest that are before the legislature, and did not appear to be intended to restrict the right of free speech of employees; and

 

WHEREAS publication of the censored article in a public newsletter designed for staff employees would not in any event be the same thing as directly and privately contacting legislators; and

 

WHEREAS the censored article is written by and based on the research of UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student Raj Ghoshal in which he reports on the ideas and opinions of his research subjects; and

 

WHEREAS the Gazette has reported in the past on research done at UNC, even when that research may have involved controversial subject matter, such as the death penalty; (9) and

 

WHEREAS the late Chancellor Michael Hooker wrote an opinion column in the Gazette in which he expressed his personal disagreement with protesting students but affirmed that “in a university there is room for all voices to be heard” and that he “whole-heartedly defend[ed] everyone’s right to express their point of view” because “UNC must be a moral exemplar in all that it does”; (10) and

 

WHEREAS Chancellor James Moeser has also emphatically committed the University to uphold “the right of its faculty and students and staff to speak their minds—even if people off campus don’t like what they are saying,” (11) affirming that “all points of view” should be able to be heard at the University (12) and that “We can show America how to have civil discourse about difficult topics… and we can do this without adopting speech codes or infringing upon the First Amendment or academic freedom. We can do this”; (13) and

 

WHEREAS Chancellor Moeser has called censorship “an important battle that the University must fight”; (14) and

 

WHEREAS Chancellor Moeser has promised that he, personally, would “continue to defend the right of those who have a contrary view, who challenge authority and orthodoxy”; (15) and

 

WHEREAS the Faculty Council has declared its approval of the Chancellor’s “unflinching defense” of free speech and the right to dissent; (16) and

WHEREAS one of our nation’s founding fathers, James Madison, introduced in the House of Representatives on June 8, 1789, a statement saying that, “The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable”; and

WHEREAS the Employee Forum views the refusal to publish this article as a part of its newsletter as a breach of employees’ rights to free speech, a breach of freedom of the press and an act of censorship that misapplies an otherwise useful policy of General Administration; and

WHEREAS Chancellor Moeser told the Forum at its retreat in 2006 that “We operate most effectively when people believe that something is the right thing to do”; (17)

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Employee Forum respectfully requests the Chancellor to urge the Editor of the University Gazette, the Director of University Communications, and the Associate Vice Chancellor for Public Relations to publish the full and complete text of the censored article as an insert under the Forum’s masthead in the next edition of the Gazette that goes to press after the passage of this Resolution and its acceptance by the Chancellor; and

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Forum respectfully requests the Chancellor to re-affirm the Constitutional right of freedom of speech as a UNC-Chapel Hill community value that is extended equally to faculty, students and staff.

 

Signed on behalf of the delegates of the Employee Forum,

 

 

 

Chair, Ernie Patterson

 

(1) Resolution 06-07, at http://forum.unc.edu/resolutions/2006/res0607final.htm.

(2) InTouch Newsletter, Vol. 8, No. 5, May 2007, at http://forum.unc.edu/InTouch/InTouch8-5.htm and InTouch Newsletter, Vol. 8, No. 6, June 2007, at http://forum.unc.edu/InTouch/IniTouch8-6.htm.

(3) Telephone communications to InTouch editor Brenda Denzler at 1:35 p.m. on July 12, 2007, and again at 11:20 a.m. on July 13, 2007.

(4) Telephone communications to InTouch editor Brenda Denzler at 11:20 a.m. on July 13, 2007.

(5) “State legislature examines budget needs of top universities,” University Gazette, June 22, 2005, at http://gazette.unc.edu/archives/05jun22/morestories.html#1.

(6) Among many examples, see “UNC system shapes its legislative budget priorities,” University Gazette, February 21, 1996; “Legislators warn of tax cuts, competition for state funds,” University Gazette, April 7, 1996; “Forum opposes bill changing state grievance procedure,” University Gazette, June 19, 1996; “Education on table as Assembly starts session today,” University Gazette, January 29, 1997; “Forum passes resolution urging repeal of bargaining law,” University Gazette, September 13, 2006; and “Elected officials share views during Forum’s annual retreat,” University Gazette, January 24, 2007.  .

(7) “Legislative Update: New leave time laws in air,” InTouch insert in the University Gazette, July 2007.

(8) “The Supreme Court has ruled that public employee speech involving matters of public concern constitutes protected speech under the First Amendment…. The result of various Supreme Court cases is that some speech is more clearly of “public concern” than others. Matters of elections, pending legislation, corruption, race discrimination, public health and safety are in the zone of public concern.” See Workplace Fairness.com, at http://www.workplacefairness.org/retaliationpublic?agree=yes#1

(9) “University study finds death penalty racially unfair,” University Gazette, April 25, 2001, at http://gazette.unc.edu/archives/01apr25/file.24.html.

(10) “A Message from Michael,” University Gazette, November 19, 1997, at http://gazette.unc.edu/archives/97nov19/file.5.html.

(11) “Moeser Supports Free Expression,” University Gazette, October 10, 2001, at http://gazette.unc.edu/archives/01oct10/file.3.html.   (See attached.)

(12) “Moeser affirms academic freedom protection,” University Gazette, June 22, 2005, at http://gazette.unc.edu/archives/05jun22/file.2.html.

(13) “State of the University: Moeser highlights goals and initiatives for UNC,” University Gazette, September 21, 2005, at http://gazette.unc.edu/archives/05sep21/file.1.html.

(14) “Moeser Supports Free Expression,” ibid.

(15) “Moeser Supports Free Expression,” ibid.

(16) “Moeser Supports Free Expression,” ibid.

(17) “Employee Forum opens year with daylong retreat,” University Gazette, January 25, 2006, at http://gazette.unc.edu/archives/06jan25/morestories.html#4.

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