On June 26, 1963 North Carolina's lawmakers approved a bill that came to be known as the Speaker Ban. The law forbade Communists and others critical of the United States government from speaking on the campuses of North Carolina's publicly-funded universities and colleges. The Speaker Ban's passage drew almost immediate reaction from students and faculty, who protested that the law infringed on their rights to free speech.  Students eventually initiated a lawsuit, and the Speaker Ban law was overturned in 1968.

While the controversy surrounding the Speaker Ban may be the most well-known test of academic freedom on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, it was not the first nor the last. For much of its history, UNC has been both praised and criticized for fostering an environment that supports freedom in teaching and learning.  At times campus leaders have been praised for upholding these principles. At other times, they have received criticism for limiting expression. Pressure from outside the campus's rock walls has occasionally played a part in the debates. This exhibition, which marks the 50th anniversary of passage of the Speaker Ban, examines events that tested the University's commitment to academic freedom and free expression.

19th century

Before the Civil War, the concept of academic freedom hadn't yet been defined. Still, faculty and students invoked their right to freedom of speech.
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Between the World Wars

In the 1920s and 30s, issues of academic freedom at UNC involved race, gender, labor rights, and censorship, among other issues.
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The Speaker Ban

The Speaker Ban, passed in 1963, banned communists and critics of the U.S. government from speaking at North Carolina's public universities. UNC became ground zero for protests against the ban.
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"Filth" in the Classroom

In 1966, Jesse Helms broadcast several editorials suggesting that UNC students were required to read and write sexually explicit material. The ensuing controversy drew attention from national media.
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Visitors to campus

Controversial speakers on UNC's campus over the years have included KKK representative David Duke and former U.S. congressman Tom Tancredo. The reactions of protestors have sparked heated discussions about free speech.
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Summer reading program

Selections for the University's Summer Reading Program have prompted controversy beyond campus, on topics including Islam, poverty and the death penalty.
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Speech codes

Since the late 1990s, national and local groups have adopted the cause of free expression on campuses across the country and at UNC-Chapel Hill.
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About this exhibit

This is an online version of an exhibit that appeared in the North Carolina Collection Gallery from February 2013 through Summer 2013. This exhibit was curated by staff of the North Carolina Collection, the Southern Historical Collection, and the University Archives and Records Management Services.