Arrington v. Taylor: The Daily Tar Heel and Student Activity Fees

The Daily Tar Heel (DTH,) founded as the Tar Heel by the UNC Athletic Association in 1893, has long been a staple of life at UNC. However, the student paper faced a significant legal challenge to its finances and operations in the 1970s.

Since the 1920s, the Daily Tar Heel had been partially funded by mandatory student fees. On July 25, 1972, four UNC students filed suit against the Chancellor of the University, the President of the Consolidated University, the Chancellor for Business and Finance, the Board of Trustees, and the Board of Governors alleging that the use of student activity fees to finance the Daily Tar Heel violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. These students argued that they were being forced to endorse the opinions and political candidates supported in print by the Daily Tar Heel despite being contrary to their personal beliefs. The students believed that anyone who disagreed with the opinions published by the Daily Tar Heel should have the corresponding portion of their student fees returned and have the option not to financially support the student newspaper. As plaintiffs, the students provided a long and detailed list of every opinion the DTH published with which they disagreed:

60. The plaintiffs disagree with the positions taken by The Daily Tar Heel concerning the adoption of a Chapel Hill and Carrboro Bus System, the use of busing to integrate public school, James C. Gardner, Spiro T. Agnew, The United States intervention in Cambodia, the impeachment and removal of Richard M. Nixon, the appointment of William H. Rehnquist, the death penalty, the Equal Rights Amendment, student strikes, Food Worker’s strikes, protests against the war in Southeast Asia, and abortion….

62. The plaintiffs disagree with the positions taken by The Daily Tar Heel concerning the National Student Association, and the continued subsidization of The Daily Tar Heel.

63. The plaintiffs disagree with the positions taken reportorially by The Daily Tar Heel concerning United States intervention in Cambodia, the Vietnam Moratorium, the Equal Rights Amendment, the lettuce boycott, student political polls, the Black Student Movement, the DTH Legal Defense Fund, and civil liberties in Pitt County.

64. The plaintiffs disagree with the positions taken in and through signed columns in The Daily Tar Heel concerning the Equal Rights Amendment, revolutionary activity, and Wilbur Hobby.

[Robert Lane Arrington, et al. v. Ferebee Taylor, William Friday et al. – Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Opinion, from Assistants to the Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Susan H. Ehringhaus Records, 1964-1985, #40031, University Archives]

The judge hearing the case ultimately ruled that no constitutional rights were being violated. He based this on the fact that while the DTH “advocates positions on various matters,” the paper “speaks only for those which control its content at any given time” and does not purport to speak for the entire student body. Further the judge stated that “The Daily Tar Heel‘s position on a given subject is no more attributable to (and therefore imposed upon) plaintiffs than is the position of the Federal Government on South Vietnam attributable to each of the citizens who annually pay their federal taxes.” While the judge ruled against the student plaintiffs in 1974, the case was subsequently appealed, and a second group of students later filed a nearly identical suit that lasted into the 1980s.

In 1977, a student body referendum created a constitutional amendment that guaranteed the Daily Tar Heel 16% of the Student Activity Fees.

[1997 Authorization of a Referendum on DTH Student Activity Fees, from Student Government of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Records, 1919-2011, #40169, University Archives]

In 1989, the DTH incorporated as an educational 501c(3) non-profit entity, separate from the University. In 1993, the Daily Tar Heel ceased being financed by student activity fees and became wholly independent from the University. Such financial independence had long been a goal of the Daily Tar Heel, being described as a “gradual process” in a 1973 Daily Tar Heel article that asked for help funding their legal defense in the Arrington v. Taylor suit.

Daily Tar Heel, 15 September 1973. Image via

For more on the history of the DTH, see the Daily Tar Heel’s timeline.

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