We believe by allowing the students to submit a personal statement for reading during a departmental graduation ceremony, the university creates a forum for student expression. As such, the university regrets that, without approval from the appropriate university officials, other limitations and instructions were communicated to participating students in one department.
We have taken immediate and deliberate steps to notify students of the legally permissible constraints associated with these solicited, voluntary personal statements. Those steps include a follow up email to students from our provost clarifying the constraints and clarifying that there are not constraints on religious references.
Deans and department chairs have received a reminder of our policies and practices with regards to voluntary personal statements. In addition, we will use this incident in a intentional way to heighten awareness and understanding of our practices within the university.
ECU PROVOST RESPONSE
May 2, 2014
The following e-mail was sent by ECU Provost Dr. Marilyn Sheerer to chemistry majors who received the initial statement:
Please disregard Dr. Hvastkovs’s previous email regarding your departmental graduation statement he sent to you on May 1, 2014 at 8:00:59 PM EDT. I have confirmed with the Chair of the Department of Chemistry that students may submit personal statements, up to 35 words, to be read during the departmental ceremony. These statements can be your personal expressions and as such the University will only limit these expressions, as permitted by applicable First Amendment law.
For your information, statement content may only be restricted when
the speech or actions of the speaker constitute a violation of North Carolina statutes governing hate crimes (which regulate acts that are intended to intimidate any person based on a protected class such as race, creed, gender etc.); or
the speech is seriously disruptive to the campus (interrupting classes or exams, inciting a riot for instance); or
the speech has failed to comply with the University's content neutral processes (you failed to submit it on time or you exceed the 35 word limit).
Religious references of any type will not be restricted. I regret that, without approval from the appropriate University officials, any other limitations were communicated to you. Thank you.
Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs