On August 12, 2017, I will get in my car and make my annual cross-country trip from my summer home in Colorado to my other home in North Carolina. After I arrive in the Tar Heel State and get settled I will sit down at my computer and do something the leftists at my university have been wanting me to do for years: I will pen my letter of resignation to the Board of Trustees at UNC-Wilmington.
However, before I submit that letter, I thought it would be a good idea to write a brief letter of explanation to all of the supporters who have stood by me in the UNC free speech and cultural wars in which I have been engaged over the last 15 years. That is the purpose of today’s column.
In a nutshell, as of last week, I have now accomplished the five main objectives I have set out to accomplish since the administration started to aggressively fight against the free speech and due process rights of professors and students in the UNC system. Having accomplished all of those goals, I have decided that it is time to start enjoying life instead of fighting against my employers in federal courtrooms and state legislative halls. For those unaware of the struggles that have consumed my time in recent years, here are some of the highlights:
April 2011. Under the leadership of Tom Ross, the UNC administration tried to argue that professors who write columns and give speeches are protected by the First Amendment unless they later mention their protected speech in their annual productivity reports or promotion applications, which would then strip them of protection and allow the university to punish the authors for their viewpoints. With the help of the ADF and ACLJ, we defeated this effort in front of the 4th Circuit in Richmond and won a unanimous ruling. The leftist UNC faculty remained neutral in the case knowing full well that they would never have to fear retaliation from administrators who share their beliefs. A conservative (yours truly) was the lone dissenter and plaintiff.
August 2013. After it passed the house by a vote of 112-1, Governor McCrory signed into law the first right to counsel legislation for college students in America. The bill ended the practice of UNC schools expelling students and student groups in kangaroo court proceedings where they were forced to face university counsel after being denied their own representation. I was pleased to be a part of this effort from the beginning - and proud to have former student John Bell sponsor the successful legislation. While this was a due process issue, it also has implications for free speech – given that many expulsion hearings involve campus speech code and speech zone violations. When we ensure greater fairness in expulsion hearings, universities are less likely to convene them.
March 2014. With the help of my ADF and ACLJ attorneys, we won a major free speech trial in front of a federal jury made up mostly of Democrats. I have written about this elsewhere so I will not rehash the details here. Suffice it to say that the proceeds from the legal judgment were spent on extremely expensive guitars that now adorn the walls of my living room. Out of affection, I named each one of the guitars after a defendant in the case. I’m sentimental that way.
July 2014. Thanks to the leadership of my friend and personal hero Thom Goolsby, we now have the best religious liberty statute protecting university student groups in all of America. Robert Shibley of FIRE first brought the bill, which originated in Ohio, to my attention. I then took it to Goolsby who was then the head of the N.C. Senate judiciary committee. The bill got buried in committee the first year but it eventually became law when Governor McCrory signed it at the end of the next summer. The bill never would have made it without the support of FIRE, the N.C. Family Policy Council, and the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy (now the Martin Center for Academic Renewal).
August 2017. Finally, as of last week, North Carolina became the first state to pass a model free speech reform bill advanced by the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. In addition to effectively doing away with all campus speech codes and speech zones, it forces universities to educate students about the new pro free speech policies during freshman orientation, which was previously a place where students were introduced to anti-free speech concepts like “micro-aggression.” The best part of the bill is that it cracks down on students who attempt to disrupt the free speech rights of others. For example, the campus lunatics who tried to shut down a pro-life display on my campus by surrounding the pro-lifers with a “human chain” so they could not speak to or share literature with passers by are now much more likely to face expulsion. We had to fight very hard to get this bill passed in light of public resistance by leftist anti-free speech newspapers like The Charlotte Observer - and relentless lobbying by UNC President Margaret Spellings. We will know it was worth the effort once we start to see heads exploding during the first freshman orientation.
I’ve been a busy guy with all of this so I am indeed looking forward to slowing down and enjoying my new life. For me, that will be spending the rest of my days ridiculing academic hypocrites. As for my letter of resignation, I will decide on my ride home to North Carolina exactly when it will take effect. I promise it will be no later than August 1, 2050.
In the meantime leftists, feel free to start another of your annual petitions to fire me. If you ever do succeed, it will mean more time on my hands to write the things that make you angry and keep sane people entertained.