Date of Award

Summer 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educ Foundations & Leadership


Higher Education

Committee Director

Dennis Gregory

Committee Member

Robert Lynch

Committee Member

William Nuckols


The purpose of this study was to describe faculty member experiences related to identifying and addressing prohibited speech in the classroom. The researcher studied faculty members at University of North Carolina (UNC) system institutions using a multiple case study research approach based on the constructivist paradigm. For the purposes of this study, prohibited speech was defined as behaviors that fall into any category deemed not protected or prohibited in case law by the Supreme Court of the United States. These prohibited behaviors included Harassment, Obscenity, Defamation/Libel, Incitement, and True Threats.

Researchers found that faculty members are unable to determine if the speech used is prohibited, they do not know how to address prohibited speech, and they lack the knowledge needed to successfully implement a response (Boysen, 2012b; Boysen & Vogel, 2009; Boysen et al., 2009; Miller et al., 2018; Sue, Torino, Lin, et al., 2009). The current literature did not address faculty member experiences related to identifying and addressing prohibited speech.

Data was collected using a combination of a document analysis and semi-structured interviews. Participants were faculty members currently employed at one of the 15 UNC higher education institutions and the sample was developed using purposeful and criterion sampling. The criteria for participation were restricted to faculty members with a title of at least Associate Professor and who taught undergraduate courses in the humanities or social sciences. Data analysis began with the transcription of each interview and the data were analyzed using descriptive and focused coding.

The analysis of the data revealed four major themes: (1) inadequate understanding and awareness of prohibited speech, (2) the impact of increased structure in the classroom on reducing the use of prohibited speech, (3) a faculty member’s personality and experience level as an effective factor for identifying and addressing prohibited speech, and (4) inadequate professional development, resources, and understanding of policy. These findings suggested that faculty members do not know how to define prohibited speech, faculty members are stopping the use of protected speech, and that current professional development opportunities should be replaced with interactive workshops.