In Wake Forest’s mission statement, the University states that it is “committed to sustaining an environment where vital beliefs and faith traditions can engage secular thought in a climate of academic freedom and an unfettered search for truth.”
Instead of staying true to its mission, Wake Forest fails to protect the fundamental human right of free speech on campus.
Freedom of speech is essential to having an intellectually vibrant campus. Higher education’s goal is to advance knowledge through a competition of ideas, and this competition cannot be facilitated without an open marketplace of ideas.
As President Hatch said in a recent letter, “a university is a place where academic freedom and freedom of expression are fundamental — a place that resists outside control and encourages community members to give voice to their beliefs, whether progressive or conservative, radical or traditional.” In the same letter, President Hatch called for Wake Forest to be a “vibrant crossroads of healthy discussion and debate.”
But instead of encouraging productive dialogue, the current Student Code of Conduct includes vague, harsh rules that stifle free speech.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit group that evaluates speech codes on college campuses, awarded Wake Forest its lowest rating for free speech protections, while similar universities like Duke and UNC Chapel Hill earned their highest rating.
Wake Forest’s rating is so low due to two policies: campus posting and verbal abuse or harassment.
The campus posting policy allows the University to reserve the right to deny or remove any posters, signs or other materials on campus.
The verbal abuse/harassment policy allows students to be punished for speech that annoys or disturbs another person.
The vagueness of these rules allows their enforcement to be at the discretion of the current administration. While the current administration only enforces these policies occasionally, a different administration could easily crack down on the speech of students using these rules.
Rather than relying on the benevolence of an ever-changing staff, Wake Forest needs to protect the unalienable of free speech of its students.
Whether the impetus for change comes from Student Government, the Faculty Senate, or the administration itself, Wake Forest should remove the vagueness found in its current statutes and ensure that they comply with the First Amendment.
Until the Code of Conduct changes to protect the rights of students, President Hatch’s vision of Wake Forest as a place that “welcome(s) genuine diversity of thought” will never become a reality.
So as Demon Deacons, let’s work together to reform our current policies to build a university that will live up to its mission as a bastion for academic freedom and the unfettered search for truth.