FIRE launches initiative to defend campus free expression across borders

January 15, 2019
  • Universities must secure free speech and academic freedom protections in international partnerships and on satellite campuses abroad.
  • Sign on to FIRE’s statement to defend student and faculty academic freedom.

PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 15, 2019 — Partnerships between universities and foreign governments or non-governmental organizations offer important opportunities to students and faculty. However, these partnerships can also present serious risks to academic freedom and expressive rights.

That’s why today the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is launching an international initiative calling on colleges and universities to protect the free speech and academic freedom rights of their communities at home and abroad.

Working in partnership with academics and other stakeholders, FIRE’s “Commitment to Campus Free Expression at Home and Abroad” campaign demands that universities prioritize free expression and academic freedom in their current and future international endeavors — and stand by those commitments when challenged.

As part of this campaign, FIRE has written a template statement for universities to adopt that protects student and faculty speech rights when they enter into international partnerships. Those interested in having their university commit to free speech and academic freedom at home and abroad can sign onto the statement on FIRE’s website.

“Unfortunately, strong free speech protections are not available in much of the world, and now is the time for universities with partnerships in unfree nations to plan for the possibility — or likelihood — of threats to the rights of their community members,” said FIRE Senior Program Officer Sarah McLaughlin.

Students around the world routinely find their academic freedom compromised while abroad. In just the last year, George Washington University’s satellite campus in Qatar censored a religious debate; Cornell University ended a partnership with a Chinese college for surveilling and punishing students who advocated for workers’ rights; and a student from the United Kingdom’s Durham University suffered a months-long detainment and now-overturned sentence of life in prison for his research in the United Arab Emirates.

“FIRE’s Home and Abroad Commitment addresses important issues that have been overlooked in universities’ expansions to other countries,” McLaughlin said. “By pledging that academic freedom and free expression will be primary considerations of future partnerships and agreements, signatory universities will make a public statement that they can be held to should they abandon it — and we’ll watch to see if they do.”


The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.


Daniel Burnett, Communications Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

Cases:  FIRE Launches Campaign Defending Expressive Rights Across Borders