3 Things to Know: Purdue’s Free Speech Policy

May 18, 2015

By Joseph Paul at Journal & Courier

On a weekend overshadowed by graduation ceremonies and tuition freezes, Purdue University adopted a new free speech code modeled on the“Chicago principles” of free speech.

The “Commitment to Freedom of Expression,” a policy adopted Friday by the Purdue University Board of Trustees, permits speech that’s “unwelcome, disagreeable or even deeply offensive” — language that’s identical to a measure first approved by the University of Chicago in January.

“Our commitment to open inquiry is not new, but adopting these principles provides a clear signal of our pledge to live by this commitment and these standards,” chairman Tom Spurgeon said in a university news release.

“As we’ve said before, a university violates its special mission if it fails to protect free and open debate. No one can expect his views to be free from vigorous challenge, but all must feel completely safe in speaking out.”

Why were the ‘Chicago principles’ created?

A string of recent events testing “institutional commitments to free and open discourse” spurred the formation of the “Chicago principles,” outlined in a report authored by University of Chicago’s Committee on Freedom of Expression.

In a blog for The Huffington Post last year, Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, called it “disinvitation season” — the last few months of the school year when students or faculty demand campus speakers be uninvited because of certain beliefs or actions.

“Although members of the university are free … to criticize and contest speakers who are invited to express their views on campus,” Purdue’s policy states, “they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.”

What’s the impact?

Under the new policy, not much will change: Most speech is permitted unless it violates the law, is falsely defamatory, constitutes a genuine threat or harassment or invades privacy or confidentiality.

Rather than suppress speech that’s “offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed,” the policy states, individuals should “openly and vigorously” contest ideas with which they disagree.

“College is a time to learn to deal with challenging, unsettling, and even offensive and hateful ideas,” Geoffrey Stone, a law professor and committee chairman at the University of Chicago, said in a university news release.

“In the real world, we are inevitably confronted with these ideas, and college should prepare our graduates to know how to respond to such ideas courageously, effectively and persuasively.”

Why is it important?

The board also modified five policies to comply with the First Amendment — an issue first brought to light in September by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group promoting free expression in education. In a joint resolution issued in December, both of Purdue’s student governing bodies urged the university to revise those policies.

“On college campuses in particular, it’s extremely important that students feel free to express themselves and to debate and explore their beliefs,” said Emilie Watson, author of the resolution.

In a step further, the board endorsed the “Chicago principles” to articulate Purdue’s commitment “to free and open inquiry in all matters.”

Purdue is the first public university to adopt the measure, according to a Purdue University press release. Faculty at Princeton University adopted the principles in April,according to news release from the private institution.

In a statement Friday, Lukianoff applauded the university for its actions, which earned a “green light” ranking from the foundation.

“I’m very ​encouraged to see ​an additional ​university use the University of Chicago’s statement as a model for its own academic freedom statement, and I’m thrilled to add another college to our growing ranks of ‘green light​’ schools,” Greg Lukianoff said in a news release issued by the foundation. “​It’s my hope that every university in the country will follow Purdue’s lead.”

Schools: Purdue University Cases: FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project