DENVER — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has launched an investigation into a rowdy student protest that prevented former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration, from delivering a speech Tuesday night on campus.
University Chancellor Holden Thorp said the investigation by the school’s Department of Public Safety could result in criminal charges. The Division of Student Affairs is also probing the incident, he said, and that students could face Honor Court proceedings as a result.
The state’s leading newspapers, including the Charlotte News & Observer, published articles harshly critical of the university’s handling of the incident.
“Free speech, which has had its ups and downs on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus over the years, suffered an embarrassing setback Tuesday night,” the paper said in an editorial Thursday.
Mr. Tancredo “was forced to leave without completing his speech at Bingham Hall. The university is left to pick up the pieces, if it can, of its reputation as a place where free speech is welcomed.”
Mr. Tancredo was scheduled to speak on the topic of in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, but shortly after taking the stage he was shouted down by protesters. They unfurled a banner in front of him reading “No Dialogue With Hate,” blocking his view of the audience.
After campus police removed the protestors who were holding the sign, Mr. Tancredo spoke for a couple of minutes until a demonstrator outside the room shattered a window, spraying glass toward the audience.
Campus police then escorted Mr. Tancredo from the room. “Congressman Tancredo felt threatened and left without making his remarks,” said Mr. Thorp.
Mr. Thorp, who sent an e-mail to students and faculty Wednesday, said he had apologized to Mr. Tancredo for the melee. UNC System President Erskine Bowls also called Mr. Tancredo to apologize.
“Mr. Tancredo was scheduled to speak about immigration. We expect protests about controversial subjects at Carolina. That’s part of our culture,” said Mr. Thorp. “But we also pride ourselves on being a place where all points of view can be expressed and heard … That didn’t happen last night.”
Mr. Tancredo, who represented a Colorado district for 10 years before retiring in November, is well-known for his stance against illegal immigration and in favor of tightening the nation’s southern border. He had been scheduled to speak on the subject of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. He was invited to the campus by Youth for Western Civilization, a student group led by Riley Matheson, a former intern at Team America, a political-action committee formed by Mr. Tancredo.