University student body president defunds pro-life clubs
University of North Carolina action challenged as viewpoint discrimination
A free-speech advocacy group took issue last week with a move by the student body president at a North Carolina university to bar pro-life groups from using student activity funds.
Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights of Expression called on Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to rescind an executive order made by student President Taliajah “Teddy” Vann defunding all pro-life student organizations. Vann’s order extends beyond student life, requiring the undergraduate student government not “to contract or expend funds to any individual, business or organization which actively advocates to further limit by law access to reproductive healthcare, including, though not limited to, contraception and induced abortions.”
The order further states the executive offices’ preference to employ businesses that offer employees “a comprehensive suite of comprehensive reproductive benefits,” though the order later states “case-by-case exceptions” may be given. The Vann administration issued the order on July 6, the same day Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order protecting access to abortions in North Carolina.
The UNC-CH chapter of Students for Life released a statement requesting the UNC Student Government rescind both the order and its sponsorship of “Redirect the Rage,” a pro-choice on-campus rally.
“These radical, one-sided actions of the UNC Student Government fail to recognize the diversity of thought at UNC-Chapel Hill and alienate a significant portion of the student body and faculty members,” read the statement by Students for Life. “We urge the UNC Student Government not to sponsor such a divisive event since it does not represent the diverse beliefs of the student body and faculty members.”
Vann’s order does violate written University policy, specifically the Statement of Diversity at the beginning of the UNC Student Constitution which states that “All governing bodies described in this Constitution … shall not discriminate in matters of policy or financial allocation on the basis of age, gender, race, color, national origin, religion, creed, political ideology, political affiliation, [or] political party.”
The order also directly violates the “Viewpoint Neutrality” section of the UNC Undergraduate Student Code which states, “Funding decisions may not have any relationship to the particular view of the group or activity. Requests for funding must be made in a manner that is neutral to the views of the organization.”
Despite the breaches of university policy, Vann dug in. “There are people who fought for this right in 1967, and now the mantle has fallen to us,” Vann told The Daily Tar Heel. “That is not something that we are happy about, but it is not a challenge that we are going to shy away from. This fight is only just beginning.”
Less than 24 hours after FIRE contacted Chancellor Guskiewicz’s office, he released a statement in which he addressed the controversial executive order, writing “Our university is a big and diverse place, making room for an array of different viewpoints, and that calls for thoughtful restraint on the part of leadership when it comes to weighing in on controversial issues. When university leaders commit the institution to a political position, it can chill dissent and silence alternative views.”
Bri Shoebert, co-president of UNC Students for Life, affirms the Chancellor’s sentiments, saying “Their recent executive order causes Students for Life to feel like an outcast organization on campus and it makes our mission of providing resources to pregnant and parenting students more difficult to be advertised and accepted by the student body and faculty members.”
The chancellor failed to explain whether the University will uphold Vann’s order even though it defies university policy, only writing that “our leadership team will continue to discuss how to fulfill our responsibility to be a place where ideas and opinions are argued, tested and freely expressed … . I look forward to continued discussions with you about how we can learn from one another, even when we might disagree.”
A recent survey across the UNC university system found that a significant number of students—particularly those with conservative views—self-censor their views in order to avoid judgment of peers or professors.
In a timely move, the university system’s board of trustees passed a resolution Wednesday affirming UNC’s commitment to cultivating academic freedom and freedom of speech on campus. And, perhaps in reaction to the controversial order by Vann, the board directed the chancellor to “direct appropriate University personnel to develop and issue policy requiring that the Senates of the Undergraduate Student Government and the Graduate and Professional Students Government must appropriate all student fees in a viewpoint-neutral manner.”
FIRE asked the university to respond to its letter by Aug. 11.
Editors Note: Subsequent to this report, UNC Student Body President Teddy Vann clarified that student group funding would continue in a viewpoint-neutral manner in accordance with with the First Amendment.
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