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Chapman University Chancellor Stresses Importance of Free Speech

By December 2, 2015

Last weekend, Chapman University Chancellor Daniele C. Struppa wrote a great piece in The Orange County Register on the meaning of free expression and the recent efforts on college campuses to censor offensive speech.

Chancellor Struppa uses the example of the constitutionally protected act of flag burning, which he finds extremely offensive, to explain America’s commitment to freedom of expression. He states:

Our belief in freedom is such that we will defend those who demonstrate their dissent through an act that almost any country outlaws. The willingness to accept such an offensive action is proof of our commitment to freedom of expression.

Last month’s incidents at Yale University and Claremont McKenna College, as well as the rhetoric from students and faculty across the country in response to these incidents, are disturbing to Chancellor Struppa. As he writes, both show a troubling lack of respect for freedom of speech. He explains in his article why this is so disturbing:

Academia, once so fiercely supportive of free speech and against any form of censorship, is now beginning to question its value. Some, in fact, are proposing to put explicit limits on it.

And, if so, who determines which groups can be made fun of? Who determines which groups are untouchable? Who, ultimately, will be the censor, who decides what can be said, taught or performed? Those in academia who don’t perceive this danger will soon find out that the limits to speech they are seeking will bite their own hands.

Fortunately, Chapman University (a private institution in California) isn’t going to be one of the schools that polices speech. The university has committed itself to upholding freedom of expression with a statement on free speech based on the principles of the University of Chicago’s free expression policy statement.

The Chapman University Statement on Free Speech promises “all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.” Like the Chicago statement, Chapman’s policy declares that it is not the university’s role to shield individuals from offensive ideas and opinions. Chapman’s statement was ratified by the faculty senate on September 18 and is also supported by Chapman’s administration and trustees. In order to ensure that constitutional speech is fully protected, Chapman’s administration should now review all of the university’s policies on campus expression.

As Torch readers might recall, in January, the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago, led by renowned law professor Geoffrey Stone, released a powerful report on the importance of freedom of expression on campus, which contained a free speech policy statement. FIRE endorsed the Chicago statement, and in September we launched a national campaign to encourage other schools to adopt its core values.

So far, six colleges and universities, including Chapman, have either endorsed the Chicago statement or embraced similar sets of principles. Princeton University and Purdue University both incorporated the core values of the statement into their own policies this past spring. John Hopkins University also came out with an academic freedom policy in the spirit of the statement. Recently, the general faculty at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina endorsed the Chicago statement, while faculty at American University endorsed a similar set of principles.

FIRE looks forward to seeing more colleges and universities adopt similar statements and policies. Those looking to take action can use our letter template to write their alma mater or local institution to urge this result.

You can read Chancellor Struppa’s timely article at ocregister.com.

Cases: FIRE Launches Campaign in Support of University of Chicago Free Speech Statement