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Appalachian earns FIRE’S highest rating for protecting free speech

BOONE, N.C.—Appalachian State University has earned the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s highest “green light” rating for protecting student and faculty free speech, a distinction held by only 35 institutions nationwide.

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The University of North Carolina – Wilmington also earned the honor, which was announced for both universities Aug. 29. With eight institutions earning FIRE’s top rating, North Carolina leads the country as the state with the most green light institutions, according to FIRE.

“FIRE is excited to see so many universities in North Carolina stand up to protect student and faculty First Amendment rights,” Azhar Majeed, FIRE’s vice president of policy reform, said in a news release. “The important efforts taken by administrators at UNC Wilmington and Appalachian are proof that, from the mountains in the west to the coastal areas of the east, free speech rights matter in North Carolina.”

Read FIRE’s news release

Appalachian reformed several yellow light speech codes in consultation with FIRE, starting in June. Those policies included a harassment/discrimination/retaliation policy, a computer use policy and a facility use policy. Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs J.J. Brown led the efforts on Appalachian’s campus, with support from the university’s Office of General Counsel.

“As Appalachian has explored issues of free speech faced by college campuses across the nation, we took a second look at some of our policies, and determined they needed to be clearer and more concise,” said Brown. “Achieving green light status with FIRE affirms Appalachian’s longstanding commitment to open discussion, academic freedom and respect for differences of opinion and belief.”

Appalachian and UNC Wilmington join 33 other colleges and universities around the country with green light rating because their written policies do not imperil student and faculty expression, according to FIRE’s Spotlight database. Other universities in North Carolina that earn a green light rating are:

  • Duke University
  • East Carolina University
  • N.C. Central University
  • UNC – Chapel Hill
  • UNC Charlotte
  • UNC Greensboro

About FIRE

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses. Learn more at

About Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 18,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.