Early this week, Ashland University (AU) announced its official adoption of a policy statement endorsing free speech, modeled largely on the Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago, better known as the “Chicago Statement.” AU’s laudable commitment comes in response to an AU Student Senate resolution, which requested that the university “protect and ensure the students’ and faculty’s moral and legal right of freedom of speech,” according to university president Carlos Campo.
AU’s statement echoes the core principles of the Chicago Statement, declaring that “it is not the proper role of Ashland University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable or even deeply offensive.” It goes on to carve out narrow exceptions to the freedom of expression, while maintaining a commitment to open dialogue:
The freedom to discuss and debate the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish. Ashland University may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment that invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests in any essentially intolerable manner.
FIRE applauds this thoughtful approach to free expression — and its narrowly defined limits. The open dialogue described encourages the consideration of all ideas, not just ones we find agreeable. Again, AU wisely borrows from the Chicago Statement:
In a word, Ashland University’s commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the Ashland University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the Ashland University community to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.
With this official endorsement, Ashland University, a private institution in Ohio, joins a growing number of colleges and universities across the country who have recognized the importance of sending the message to students, faculty, and the public at large that freedom of expression is encouraged on campus. Since its introduction in 2015, the Chicago Statement’s eloquent commitment to free expression and inquiry has been considered by many as the gold standard for institutional free speech policy statements. Colleges and universities across the country have taken notice. By our count, administrations or faculty bodies at 30 institutions have adopted a version of the Chicago Statement thus far.
FIRE commends AU for taking a principled stance on freedom of expression. AU’s nearly 6,000 students will benefit greatly from the adoption of this statement. We would welcome the opportunity to work with AU to revise any other policies it maintains regarding student and faculty speech, so that the university may further demonstrate this ongoing commitment to free expression.
Interested in getting a version of the Chicago Statement adopted on your campus? Please visit our Chicago Statement page for more information. Alumni can pen a letter to their alma mater, current students can take action on campus, and faculty can introduce a free speech statement for consideration by their faculty senate. Contact us for more ways to get involved!