The Speaker Ban Law

Chancellor William B. Aycock ’37 (MA, ’48 JD) to the UNC Board of Trustees
Oct. 28, 1963

In 1941 the General Assembly of North Carolina enacted a criminal statute (General Statutes 14-11, 14-12) making it unlawful for “any person, by word of mouth or writing, willfully and deliberately to advocate, advise or teach a doctrine that the government of the United States, the State of North Carolina or any political subdivision thereof shall be overthrown or overturned by force or violence or by any other unlawful means.” This statute also prohibits the use of any public building for such purposes. In 1953 the 1941 statute was extended to outlaw certain types of secret societies. The officials of the University have been aware of this statute since the time it became law. I do not know of any violation. Moreover, I do not know of anyone who has knowledge that this law has been ignored by the University. Clearly if any person has such knowledge, he is derelict in his duties as a citizen so long as he withholds such knowledge from those officials charged with the enforcement of the laws of this State.

The 1963 Legislation (H.B. 1395 – Chapter 1207 of the 1963 Session Laws) goes much further than the 1941 Act in that it prohibits any person to whom it applies from speaking on any State supported campus on any subject. Apart from this blanket prohibition the statute is fraught with uncertainties and ambiguities.

The 1963 Act by its own terms does not impose any penalties for failure to comply with its provisions. However, General Statutes 14-230 declares that: “If any … official of any of the State institutions … shall willfully omit, neglect or refuse to discharge any of the duties of his office, for default whereof it is not elsewhere provided that he shall be indicted, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” Presumably this latter statute applies and, if so, the 1963 Visiting Speakers Law is a criminal statute.

On the surface this Act, copy attached, appears to be a simple one to enforce. But to one charged with the duty of enforcement it is quickly evident that it is worded in extremely vague terms in almost every particular. A few selected examples will illustrate the vagueness of the Act.

I. What is meant by a “known member of THE Communist Party?

a. American Communist Party only?

b. Communist Party of Great Britain? France? Italy? Etc.? c. Does it include all citizens of Russia whether or not they are members of the Party?

d. Does it include all citizens in the Russian Bloc?

2. “Known” by what means? a. judgment of a court? b. Admission? c. Reputation? d. Accusation by some official body? e. Accusation by some unofficial body or individual?

3. Section (B) “Is known to advocate the overthrow of the constitution of the United States or the State of North Carolina.”

a. This section does not specify by force or violence. Does it include “overthrow” by peaceful means? If so, could it include those who advocate radical changes of our government through political action? Ex. Proposal for a Super Supreme Court?

4. Section (C) involves persons who have pleaded the Fifth Amendment in specified circumstances. Is this section similar to (A) and (B) in that they must be KNOWN to have done so? Is there a duty to investigate each invited speaker? If so, so-called Fifth Amendment Communists (often not Communists at all) are in this respect considered more dangerous than known Communists. The less the danger the greater the prudence is the literal language of this section.

5. The title of the Act refers only to regulating visiting speakers. But the text refers to any person using the facilities of the college or university for speaking purposes. Students do not enroll for speaking purposes and faculty are not employed for speaking purposes in the same sense this term is used for visiting speakers. The meaning of the text is not clear.

The Trustees of the University could exercise sole responsibility for the enforcement of the Act. The Board of Trustees is also authorized to appoint others to administer it. Presumably such person or persons could be appointed whether or not such person or persons now hold an administrative post in the University. The President or a member of his staff could be appointed to enforce the act on a uniform basis for all campuses. Another alternative would be to appoint the chancellors alone or along with deans, directors and department heads. Another possibility would be to designate all persons authorized to invite visiting speakers as responsible for its enforcement.

In order to resolve some of the ambiguities in the 1963 Act the administration prepared a policy statement and submitted it to the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees on July 8, 1963. On that date the following policy statement was adopted by the Executive Committee:

The facilities of the Consolidated University of North Carolina shall be denied to any visiting speaker who is known to be a member of any Communist Party; or is known to advocate the overthrow of the Constitution of the United States or the State of North Carolina, or is known to have pleaded the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States in refusing to answer any questions, with respect to Communist or subversive connections, or activities, before any duly constituted legislative committee, any judicial tribunal, or any executive or administrative board of the United States or any State.

This policy shall be enforced by student representatives of student organizations authorized to invite visiting speakers and by any member of the faculty or administrative official who invites a visiting speaker to the campus.

Since July 8, 1963, each of the three campuses of the University has endeavored to comply with the provisions of this statement of policy. This legislation will seriously harm higher education and the entire state in a variety of ways. It is our duty to express our deep concern clearly and forthrightly. The Faculty Council of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after careful study and deliberation unanimously adopted a statement on the Visiting Speakers Law. This statement which will be made available to you in full text will unquestionably be regarded as one of the great documents on the subject of free speech. It is a privilege for me to quote from it:

Political tampering with the educational process can, over a relatively brief period, drastically lower the quality of the higher education affected. Legislative censorship, once begun, carries an invidious threat of future proscriptions, and inevitably stirs fears in the minds of both faculty and students that expression of unpopular sentiments may produce reprisals against them. Further, to secure and retain faculty members of high quality we must compete in a nationwide market. It is an inescapable fact that any legislative curtailment of free expression on a campus is a black mark against the institution in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of the best university teachers in America teachers who are, nevertheless, anti-communist by strong intellectual conviction. We recognize and deeply appreciate the great efforts made by the 1963 General Assembly to provide adequate support for the University and for higher education in general; but, despite the improvement effected, we still have grave difficulties in competing for faculty members. This additional handicap could be disastrous.

There are many learned societies of national and international character. A number of these have met in Chapel Hill. In the ordinary course of events even more would desire to do so, and some at this moment have Chapel Hill under consideration. The programs of these meetings are not arranged and their speakers are not selected by the host school. No learned society of standing would seriously consider allowing the host institution to interrogate and possibly blackball its duly selected speakers. They will not meet in Chapel Hill if the University lays down any such condition. And many of the finest teachers will not join or long remain a member of a faculty at an institution which these learned societies will not consider as a place to meet. This tends further to lower the prestige of an institution known to be under this kind of legislative restriction.

The foregoing statements are not expressions of unfounded fears. A scientific group was scheduled to meet in Chapel Hill this fall. Each member of the group had been invited to submit a paper to be read at this meeting. A professor in one of the world’s most distinguished universities indicated last summer that he was planning to submit a paper dealing with a highly technical subject. This professor was known to take the Fifth Amendment a decade ago. Thus we were faced with a serious problem. What should we do? Fortunately, we were able to save the meeting thanks to the cooperation of a group of scientists in a neighboring institution. They agreed to provide a forum in the event this professor submitted a paper. Needless to say this matter involved much time and embarrassment for many people. One further example should be sufficient to illustrate the dimensions of the difficulties which will be encountered in the enforcement of this law. A scientific organization of twenty thousand members was planning to send fifteen hundred delegates to a meeting on this campus in the spring of 1965. The Society arranges the programs and selects the speakers. Since scientific knowledge knows no boundaries, it is quite usual to secure speakers from all over the world, including some from behind the Iron Curtain. This Society does not expect us to violate the Visiting Speakers Law but at the same time it will not fetter its program because of it. What shall we do?

In this context it is well to recall that the General Assembly of 1963 recognized that North Carolina was not abreast of many other states in the advancement of scientific knowledge. Consequently, an appropriation of $2,000,000 was made to the North Carolina Board of Science and Technology to assist in the development of programs to enable this state to move ahead in these vital areas. Obviously the key element in the advancement of scientific knowledge is to attract more scientists to the state. The climate for learning and teaching is fundamental to the success of this important venture. In effect this means the climate which prevails on the campuses of our colleges and universities, for it is here that most of our scientific talent is concentrated. Thus we have a tragic inconsistency. One law encourages scientific development whereas another law discourages it. We would be negligent in our duty should we sit silently by and fall to point out the full implications of the Visiting Speakers Law.