A UNC system task force will recommend that all public universities follow a single policy related to hate crimes.
But the task force, formed following the November discovery of racist threats to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama inside N.C. State’s Free Expression Tunnel, has stopped short of recommending mandatory diversity training for new public university students.
The group was asked to consider both a systemwide hate crimes policy and the need for mandatory diversity training. It is recommending the systemwide policy to UNC President Erskine Bowles but wants a new task force to continue exploring the need for diversity training.
A systemwide policy detailing unacceptable behavior would both force campuses to standardize their codes of conduct and send a message to students about what is acceptable behavior, said Harold Martin, a UNC system vice president who chaired the task force. The more detailed the policy is, the more power a campus has to punish bad behavior, Martin said.
“It heightens the level of visibility and importance of student codes of conduct,” Martin said. “It will force the campuses to be clearer about codes of conduct and allow them to punish students who violate it.”
The policy would include a broad statement about the university's commitment to diveristy and multiculturalism as well as more detailed information prohibiting, for example, the infliction or threat of bodily harm, and harassment.
Task force members prefer that a new policy not specifically use the phrase "hate crimes," saying it should have a broader reach.
A public forum in January revealed strong opinions on both sides of the issue. Proponents of a new policy said it would ease tensions on campuses. Opponents feared an infringement on freedom of speech and expression, with some saying it appeared an overreaction to a single incident.
Several UNC system campuses offer diversity training during freshman orientation, but none mandate it. The task force was asked simply to consider whether students should receive such training; its members concluded that a new commission should look at the issue more broadly, taking faculty and staff into account as well.
“It can’t just center on students; it must also focus on employees,” said Tracy Wright, a task force member and administrator at Appalachian State University. “You can’t just attack one piece of the puzzle and think everything will be alright.”
The task force’s final report is due to Bowles March 31.