Monday, March 17, 2014

The Speaker Ban Law and the Controversy over Academic Freedom at North Carolina Universities

On June 26, 1963, just before session adjournment, the North Carolina legislature ratified H.B. 1395, titled "an act to regulate visiting speakers at state supported colleges and universities." This bill decreed that no college or university receiving state funding in North Carolina was allowed to host a speaker who "(A) is a known member of the Communist Party; (B) is known to advocate the overthrow of the constitution of the United States or the state of North Carolina; [or] (C) has pleaded the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America in refusing to answer any question, with respect to communist or subversive connections, or activities." The act required the Boards of Trustees at these schools to enforce these restrictions.


Carolinian article regarding Student Government's
stance on Speaker Ban, Nov. 1, 1963
According to many reports, the bill and its passage came as a surprise to many, including key administrators in and across the Consolidated University of North Carolina System (which at the time, consisted of the University at Chapel Hill, N.C. State in Raleigh, and Woman's College -- soon to be UNCG). As detailed in a speech by UNCG Student Government President Anne Prince in October 1963, UNC President William Friday "was first notified of the existence of the bill just after it was introduced on the floor of the House, and before he could get to Raleigh, just 31 minutes later, a new law had been passed."

Administrators, faculty, staff, and students at the UNC System schools lambasted the bill, known as the Speaker Ban Law, as an assault on academic freedom. At UNCG, the Student Government passed numerous resolutions condemning the bill. Chancellor Otis Singletary joined President Friday and the leaders of the other two UNC campuses to speak out against the Speaker Ban Law. Faculty and key administrators across campus wrote legislators demanding a repeal of the law.

In a November 15, 1963 letter to President Friday, Herman Middleton, head of UNCG's Department of Drama and Speech, wrote about how he was unable to bring playwright Arthur Miller on campus to speak on his play The Crucible, which was being performed by the National Repertory Theatre as part of their residency at UNCG. Miller pleaded the fifth amendment during Congressional hearings by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1957. Middleton wrote that "the educational experience would have been much greater if we could have had Mr. Miller on campus."



Farley Granger and Anne Meacham in the National
Repertory Theater's production of
Arthur Miller's The Crucible
Two years later, Mereb Mossman, dean of the faculty at UNCG, wrote North Carolina Governor Dan Moore regarding the impact of the Speaker Ban Law on faculty morale and recruitment. She wrote that "during the past two years, ... there have been many men whom we have sought to attract to positions on this campus who have questioned the Speaker Ban Law as an expression of lack of faith of the people of this State in its university." She also stresses the impact of the law on the national reputation and even its accreditation status (the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges was investigating possible violations of accreditation standards as a result of the law).

While many in academia fought the law, some North Carolina citizens encouraged legislators to continue the ban. A March 10, 1965 from a "P. Hastings" to Governor Moore declared that "any individual or group who refuses to come to the University of North Carolina or any other state supported college because Communists are not permitted to speak on the campus, indicates by their refusal that they are warped in their views to the extent that the students are better off by not hearing them." He continued, "I am positive beyond any doubt that if this matter was presented to the citizens of North Carolina and they be given an opportunity to express themselves, that 95% of them would be in favor of this law."

The North Carolina legislature, however, refused to repeal the law. In 1966, the UNC Chapel Hill chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) invited two known communist speakers to campus. In accordance with the Speaker Ban Law, the Board of Trustees rescinded the speakers' invitations. Supported by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the SDS filed suit in federal court challenging the Speaker Ban Law and its implementation. A three-judge federal court in Greensboro heard the arguments, and, in 1968, declared the Speaker Ban Law unconstitutional.


If you are interested in learning more about the speaker ban law in North Carolina (not just at UNCG), the State Archives has digitized a sampling of their archival records dealing with the Speaker Ban Study Commission.

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