The New Chapel Hill Chancellor’s Moment of Opportunity

Students walk at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, N.C., September 20, 2018. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

Carol Folt abruptly resigned as UNC-Chapel Hill’s chancellor last year after the turmoil over the statue of a Confederate soldier. She took the side of the students who sought its removal, and left voluntarily.

Folt has been replaced by Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz, formerly the dean of the university’s College of Arts and Sciences. He was recently interviewed by the Martin Center’s Shannon Watkins. It sounds like he could do some good.

Most important, he apparently understands that the university has a problem with intolerance for viewpoints that don’t align with leftist ideas. To that end, Chapel Hill has begun the Program for Public Discourse. Guskiewicz says that it is “focused on our students gaining an appreciation of viewpoint diversity, intellectual diversity, [and] bringing speakers in who sit at certain places along the ideological spectrum.” That’s a step in the right direction. But the acid test will come if far-left students decide to prevent a speaker they dislike from speaking. If Chapel Hill has an incident like that at Middlebury College, will the guilty students get off with just a slight reprimand?

When Watkins asked about a survey showing that 25 percent of the students think they’re entitled to shout down people they don’t like, Guskiewicz replied:

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There’s a message that goes out at the beginning of the academic year to all the students emphasizing the importance of free speech on our campus; that we allow speakers of all types to come to campus and that to be disruptive would be a violation of that policy. We can always improve in this regard and I’m committed to it.

Again, that sounds good, but what action will the school take to uphold free speech? Assuming that classes resume in the fall, we might find out.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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