‘Chicago Statement’ is a Policy U.S. Universities Should Heed

October 29, 2015

By The Oklahoman Editorial Board at The Oklahoman

THERE are many reasons for the unlikely ascension of Donald Trump and Ben Carson to the top of the GOP presidential polls, but one of the reasons surely is this: their willingness to speak out against political correctness.

A Rasmussen survey conducted in late August found that 71 percent of Americans think political correctness is a problem in our country, while only 18 percent say it’s not.

Perhaps nowhere is the problem more acute than in the realm of higher education, with its freedom-
restricting “speech codes” and its various “trigger warnings” designed to protect students from “microaggressions” they may find discomforting.

U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, recently sent a letter to 160 public colleges and universities reminding them that “the First Amendment prohibits the government, including governmental public colleges and universities, from infringing on free speech and the free exercise of religion.”

Goodlatte wants to know “what steps your institution plans to take to promote free and open expression on its campus(es), including any steps toward bringing your speech policies in accordance with the First
Amendment.”

Colleges and universities nationwide would do well to follow the lead of the University of Chicago, Princeton University, Purdue University and American University in adopting the principles set forth in the “Chicago statement,” a free-speech policy produced by the
University of Chicago earlier this year.

“In a word,” the statement reads, “the University’s fundamental 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 University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral or wrong-headed.” All members of the campus community should be given “the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonpartisan think tank committed to freedom of expression and academic freedom, recently announced the launch of a national campaign asking colleges and universities to adopt the Chicago
statement.

On a related note, a new organization, Heterodox Academy, was established last month with the goal of increasing “viewpoint diversity” in higher education. The group consists of professors, researchers and graduate students concerned about the problems of “political or intellectual homogeneity,” according to the group’s website.

“We don’t all agree about the nature of the problem or its solutions … but we all agree that our academic fields (and many others) would produce better and more reliable research if they contained more viewpoint
diversity.”

We’re not endorsing viewpoint-diversity bean counting. If a state’s conservative taxpayers outnumber liberals by a ratio of, say, 4 to 1, that doesn’t mean the same percentages must obtain on the state’s university faculties. Nevertheless, it’s clear that viewpoint diversity is sorely needed on many taxpayer-funded campuses, and any progress on this front would be welcomed. Some of the group’s proposed solutions are worth a look at heterodoxacademy.org.

University leaders can make a difference. For example, nearly 700 college presidents are concerned enough about greenhouse gas emissions that they have signed the “American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment” committing their institutions to take steps toward “climate neutrality.”

Here’s hoping higher education leaders will show a similar commitment to free speech and viewpoint diversity on their campuses.

Schools: University of Chicago American University Princeton University Purdue University