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UNC Asheville Adopts Institutional Neutrality

Asheville Adopts Institutional Neutrality

I didn’t realize this until I read the article below from the Asheville (North Carolina) Watchdog, but apparently the entire University of North Carolina (UNC) system is adopting institutional neutrality à la the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report, put in place in 1967. About two years ago I reported that the flagship school of UNC, the branch at Chapel Hill, had adopted not only the Kalven Principles, but also the University of Chicago’s Freedom of Expression Principles. The latter guarantees free speech on campus, comporting with the First Amendment but also subject to the University’s “time, place, and manner” restrictions that allow the institution to function. Institutional neutrality, embodied in Kalven, supports free speech by prohibiting schools, academic units, or departments from taking official positions on political, ideological or moral questions—with rare exceptions that involve issues involving the functioning of the institution.

(For an example of our Kalvenish restraint, see this statement by the University after the October 7 attack on Israel and the resultant war.) So far, over a hundred American colleges have adopted a version of our Free Expression principles, but only a handful adhere to Kalven. It appears to be very hard for schools to keep their gobs shut about political issues of the day, and it’s made worse because students, who often don’t understand the purpose of institutional neutrality, put colleges under heavy pressure to issue statements.

Students Defend Banners

The article below is about that pressure, pressure exemplified by students defending the banners below hanging from the library of the University of North Carolina Asheville (UNCA) library. There are three political ones, supporting Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ community, and a land acknowledgment to the Cherokee. The students also don’t understand why UNCA doesn’t take a position on the war in Gaza.

Click any of the items below to read the piece. What started the debate about institutional neutrality was the removal of the banners above in 2023, along with a Black Lives Matter Mural that was taken down during renovations and not replaced. The Chancellor explained that the banners, and now any statements about the war in Gaza, would be violations of institutional neutrality.

Chancellor’s Explanation

Since University of North Carolina Asheville students began protesting against the war in Gaza in early May, Chancellor Kimberly van Noort has maintained that the university should avoid an official stance on the matter. “Neither the University nor I, the chancellor, should interfere by taking an official stance,” van Noort wrote in a public update to students and faculty earlier this month. “Institutional neutrality promotes the open exchange of ideas and avoids inhibiting scholarship, creativity, and expression. Compromising this position carries great risks.”

Her adherence to institutional neutrality mirrors other universities’ stances across the country, which have experienced growing protests in the past few weeks. Institutional neutrality also has been applied to other cultural issues on campus, including the Ramsey Library display of Black Lives Matter, Cherokee land acknowledgment, and LGBTQ+ banners – and comes at a time when the university system’s Board of Governors is considering removing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion positions and offices across the system.

Statewide Adoption of Neutrality

The idea of institutional neutrality dates back to the University of Chicago’s 1967 Kalven Committee Report, which argues that university neutrality is important in fostering a diversity of viewpoints. The idea caught steam in 2021 when Vanderbilt’s chancellor Daniel Diermeier advocated for it in pieces for USA Today, Inside Higher Ed, and Forbes, UNCA’s chief university communication and marketing officer Michael Strysick said.

Strysick said it was a 2017 state law involving campus free speech – and UNC policy – that brought institutional neutrality to the UNC system. The law, born from HB 527, stated “the constituent institution may not take action, as an institution, on public policy controversies of the day.” The law did not include the term “neutrality” until it was amended by SB 195 last summer. SB 195 requires all North Carolina colleges and universities to remain neutral on “political controversies of the day.” Last summer, the General Assembly passed another bill, SB 364, using language mirroring the Kalven Report, prohibiting UNC institutions from asking employment applicants to describe beliefs around “contemporary political debate or social action.”

A few weeks ago, a UNC System committee approved a policy that would remove Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion positions and offices across the system if approved by the full Board of Governors on May 23. The committee’s decision sparked a student protest in front of the Ramsey Library. Student protesters met with Chancellor Van Noort in May and were advised that taking a stand on the war, or even on DEI, was a violation of institutional neutrality.

Pushback and Criticisms

Students and some faculty don’t like that UNCA doesn’t publicize debatable ideas or political initiatives that students and faculty like. But of course they can still recruit, though retention of students with lower qualifications will always be a problem. But you can’t give special privileges to students because of their ethnicity (face it, this is not about “viewpoint diversity” but about race and ethnicity).

One more misguided criticism of institutional neutrality, dealing with a student’s reaction after the banners and the BLM mural was removed:

Alumna Lauren Brasswell was the student government president at the time. “By choosing not to take a stance, the institution is taking a stance on ignoring the historical significance of the harsh realities that marginalized individuals face,” said Brasswell. “This reality does not and should not go against any universities’ mission or values. And, if it does, that institution is and will be a hostile, discriminatory and unsafe environment for any black or brown student, faculty, or staff.” No, that’s not true at all.


At any rate, the article ends with the pro-Palestinian students promising to continue their activities in the fall while planning strategy during the summer. More power to them—so long as they don’t violate University regulations. I disagree with nearly all of their views, but hey, it’s free speech, and they’re welcome to say what they want, even “Globalize the intifada”, a call for violence that’s legal so long as it doesn’t incite imminent and predictable violence.

Share this: Tweet Email Posted on May 21, 2024 by whyevolutionistrue Posted in colleges and universities, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, Kalven Report

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Author: HERE Asheville