Following a two-year process of campus-wide discussion and input, Brandeis University officially affirmed the “Principles of Free Speech and Free Expression” in October.
A principled endorsement of freedom of expression, this policy statement endeavors to “guide free and robust debate and deliberation among all members of the university community.” Each of the statement’s six principles aims to highlight important aspects of the university’s stance on free expression, including “maximizing free speech in a diverse community” and “developing skills to engage in difficult conversation.” With its adoption, Brandeis becomes the 51st institution or faculty body to endorse a free speech policy statement that echoes the values of the “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression” at the University of Chicago (the “Chicago Statement”).
The six-part principles represent Brandeis’ commitment to freedom of expression, as drafted and deliberated on by the Presidential Task Force on Free Expression, with extensive consultation and communication with the university community. Taking cues from the university’s president, Ron Liebowitz, the task force engaged in various discussions, community dialogues, and research in order to draft a statement that fit Brandeis’ values. This process, as described by the task force’s chairperson, Professor George Hall, was a “multi-year campus conversation on what free expression at Brandeis looks like, what it means, and why it is essential.”
According to Professor Hall, the university was committed to producing a statement that was representative of Brandies’ unique community and the high value it places on freedom of expression. “At Brandeis, the faculty, students, staff, and alumni approach nearly all important issues of the day from a wide variety of perspectives” he explained. “We celebrate this diversity of ideas and approaches.”
According to the task force’s charge, the statement of principles underwent scrutiny from a multitude of campus stakeholders: the faculty senate, the University Advisory Council, the faculty as a whole, the undergraduate Student Union, the Graduate Student Association, and finally the Board of Trustees. The process of distilling all of these perspectives into a succinct statement of principles culminated in final approval from the Board of Trustees at the end of September, and the subsequent university announcement in October.
Not only did the task force consider perspectives from its own community, but the final statement of principles was also informed by many external statements on free expression. According to Professor Hall, the task force discussed and considered the Chicago Statement; “Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression,” a statement authored by Princeton University’s Robert George and Harvard University’s Cornel West; PEN America’s Principles on Campus Free Speech; and Yale University’s “Woodward Report,” among others.
FIRE is pleased to see Brandeis embrace free speech in official policy. Not only has the university endorsed the ideas of free expression in policy that was crafted with the input of many campus stakeholders, the university has also pledged to “undertake a review of all related policies to ensure they are consistent with and support these principles.” FIRE would be pleased to assist the Brandeis administration in revising its current speech codes to ensure they meet the standards set forth in the “Principles.”
Upon completion of the process, the Brandeis task force’s report to the president summarized its key findings: “Brandeis affirms the principle of free speech and free expression on campus. This freedom should be accessible to all members of a diverse community.” We hope that all colleges and universities consider taking up such an endeavor in order to better understand and articulate their own principles on free expression.
Interested in adopting a free speech statement on your campus? Contact us today!