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UNC treats Candace Owens event equally following pushback from free speech group

Staff ignored emails, gave no clear answers

Two groups won equal treatment for an event tomorrow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill featuring Daily Wire commentator Candace Owens.

UNC originally denied the event “Campus Life Experience” credit and would not list it on Heel Life, a university calendar. Most full-time students must attend at least two CLE events per semester.

Student Free Speech Alliance and the campus TPUSA group fought the denial – and won.

The university backtracked on Feb. 16 after Harrington Shaw, the free speech group’s president, emailed university leadership and published his criticism. TPUSA leader Matthew Trott had also asked for an explanation.

“Typically, when a reviewer denies a request for CLE credit or event approval on Heel Life, he or she clearly identifies what criteria were not met so that the request can be resubmitted,” Shaw told The College Fix via email. “This did not occur in this case. Matthew Trott was left with no explanation for the denial for days, and his email to the staff for assistance was ignored.”

After being contacted, Aaron Bachmeier, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, told Trott on Feb. 15 the event “lacked significant details required of all submissions,” according to an email Shaw sent The Fix.

Yet on the same day, the CLE team called the denial a “human error.”

The team stated that the decision would be reversed upon the submission of additional requirements. These items of criteria consisted of information on how the Q and A portion of the event will be moderated, among other requirements that have not been previously requested by the university.

“Finally, after weeks of lost time for marketing efforts, the event was approved for CLE and posted to HeelLife on February 19th,” Shaw told The Fix.

The fight continues, according to Shaw, who said he filed a public records request for more information. “SFSA will continue to investigate the incident to identify evidence of viewpoint discrimination and to inform forthcoming requests to reform the event approval process to ensure viewpoint neutrality,” Shaw told The Fix.

Shaw said he thinks the specific speaker, Owens, was the reason for the denial.

“Viewpoint discrimination on the part of the original reviewer is possible considering the nebulous denial, the retroactive explanation for the denial, and the pattern of approval for previous event,” Shaw said.

“UNC’s request that Matthew change insignificant details of the request–details that are not required by the CLE rubric and have not been requested for past events–likely indicate either hostility toward the event or a coordinated coverup for a staff member who wrongly denied the request,” he said.

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No one at UNC responded to an emailed request for comment sent in the past week and a half.

The Fix reached out for comment on Feb. 22 to the CLE department, Amy Johnson, vice chancellor of student affairs, and the media relations division, asking for more information.

A free speech group said that universities can have requirements for “institutional speech,” but there should be transparency.

“When a university puts its stamp on something, such as a mandatory academic program for students like the Campus Learning Experience…that is institutional speech, and the university can essentially have full control over that program,” Haley Gluhanich with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression told The Fix via email.

“That means the university can decide what messages, views, and content it wants as a part of the program and can opt not to include certain views, messages, and content it disfavors,” Gluhanich said.

Groups should be “told the justification for the denial,” the program officer said. This applies to things like event funding, not being able to advertise an event on a bulletin board, or the location selected for an event.

“This would give the group a chance to fix any deficiencies in its request that may not meet a viewpoint neutral policy – for example, not submitting the correct paperwork, choosing a classroom for an event that can’t hold the anticipated audience, or using a poster to advertise an event that is too large to hang on the bulletin board,” she said.

“It would also ensure the denial wasn’t made based on viewpoint.”

MORE: TPUSA sues SUNY Cortland for denial

IMAGE: TPUSA Southeast/Instagram

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Brandy Perez is a student at the University of Alabama, where she is studying in Public Relations with a minor in Public Policy. Her involvement in politics stems from her experience growing up on the Texas-Mexico border, where she observed first hand the impact of public policy in her community. She has been a part of multiple political campaigns, and served in the 88th Texas Legislature.