University of Chicago Has A Free Speech Policy That Actually Protects Free Speech

January 15, 2015

By Ashley Dobson at Red Alert Politics

Too often free speech and universities seem to clash. Cases of students being censored or thrown off campus for their beliefs are all too prevalent, usually due to some misguided belief that speech shouldn’t offend anyone.

But the University of Chicago isn’t falling victim to that kind of politically correct thinking that plagues so many of its academic colleagues.

Led by Geoffrey Stone, a professor specializing in constitutional law, the university’s new policy makes it clear that the school might have many duties to its students, but ensuring them an offense-free environment isn’t one of them.

From the new statement:

“Of course, the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable
those ideas may be to some members of our community.

The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish. The University may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University. In addition, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University. But these are narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression, and it is vitally important that these exceptions never be used in a manner that is inconsistent with the University’s commitment to a completely free and open discussion of ideas.

In a word, 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.”

Furthermore, the school said they consider this policy to be at the very “core” of their mission.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has even endorsed the new policy in a statement.

“The University of Chicago and its faculty, students, administration, and alumni should be proud of the university’s new free speech statement and the ideas it puts forth,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff.

“The Committee’s robust statement deserves to take a place alongside the American Association of University Professors’ famous 1915 ‘Declaration of Principles,’ its 1940 ‘Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure,’ Yale University’s Woodward Report, and the University of Chicago’s own Kalven Report as inspiring statements on the unique importance of free speech to any university community. We hope other universities will adopt similar policy statements in order to protect freedom of speech and academic freedom on their own campuses.”

Schools: University of Chicago