Mitchell v. The Univ. of N.C. Bd. of Governors

August 2017
University of North Carolina System (Public college or university)
Raleigh, NC

Identity of Speakers

  • Alvin Mitchell

    Winston-Salem State University professor

Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
  • Incident Political Orientation:
    Not Clear
  • Incident Responses:
    University investigation issuing in sanctions
    Faculty sanctioned
  • Incident Status:
    In litigation State Court
  • Did not involve Speech Codes


The N.C. Court of Appeals has affirmed the University of North Carolina System’s decision to fire a Winston-Salem State justice studies professor in 2019. But the split 2-1 ruling raised questions about the professor’s First Amendment rights.

The university fired professor Alvin Mitchell after “three alleged acts of misconduct” between fall 2015 and fall 2017, according to the Appeals Court majority opinion authored by Judge Toby Hampson.

In the first case, university officials say Mitchell never provided a student with a final grade for a 2015 class. Mitchell’s supervisors tried to resolve the situation, leading at one point to a “verbal altercation” with Mitchell in which a supervisor called police.

In the final incident, university officials say Mitchell failed to open an online course that he was scheduled to teach in fall 2017.

The second incident prompted the split among appellate judges.

During the 2016-17 academic year, two of Mitchell’s students requested funding from one of his supervisors — Denise Nation — to present research at an event in New Orleans titled the Race, Gender, and Class conference. Nation did not approve the funding. She recommended that the students instead consider a different conference sponsored by the American Society of Criminology.

“One of the students believed that Dr. Nation may have encouraged the students to look into the ASC conference because it was primarily Caucasian,” Hampson wrote.

Mitchell learned about Nation’s decision and sent her a letter. The letter defended the conference and criticized Nation’s response to the students.

“After all these years, it is amazing that you still think that anything white is better,” Mitchell wrote. “I looked up the ASC and nothing but a bunch of white men (some white women) are running it. Keep promoting and praising those white folks who are associated with the ASC.”

“As I told you before, you can graduate from and praise their schools, come up with a great theory, hangout with them, … wear their European style weaves, walk with their bounce, hire them, present at their conferences, and even publish in their journals. In their eyes you will never be equal to them,” Mitchell added.

He then wrote sentences featuring a series of racial epithets before ending the letter with, “You will never get it. Wake up.”

Nation “believed the letter created a hostile workplace,” according to the Appeals Court opinion. University officials later determined that the letter violated the UNC Code.

Mitchell appealed the decision to the NC Supreme Court.