UT recognized for promoting free speech

May 25, 2011

Congratulations to the University of Tennessee-Knoxville for being named one of the seven best colleges and universities for freedom of speech by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Free speech is a cornerstone of American democracy. Learning to use it, value it and understand it should be a key component of every higher education experience.

UT is joined by Arizona State University, Dartmouth College, The College of William & Mary, University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Virginia. FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation based in Philadelphia that is dedicated to upholding individual rights, freedom of expression and academic freedom throughout American higher education.

Much of FIRE’s effort is dedicated to shining light on free speech restrictions on college campuses. Earlier this year, it published a list of the 12 worst colleges for free speech. Fortunately, none were in Tennessee. But FIRE President Greg Lukianoff decided it was time to recognize schools that go the extra mile in promoting and living up to the promise of free speech. He compiled the list based on numerous factors, including university policies and past actions restricting First Amendment rights on campus.

The organization evaluates more than 400 American colleges and universities for First Amendment restrictions. Only 14, including UT, have been awarded FIRE’s "green light" for not restricting free speech.

In Tennessee, we have reported on college leadership orders to pull campus newspapers from circulation because of news stories critical of school officials. Free speech can be messy, unpleasant and even offensive. It can be abused.

Higher education must be about more than studying the arts and sciences. It should be about more than qualifying for a higher-paying job. It should also be about developing critical-thinking skills, trying new ideas, challenging beliefs and learning to live with people and ideas that are different from our own. As Lukianoff noted in a published article on campus free speech: "A critical part of the college experience is grappling with ideas that you might not agree with or that might even offend you. In fact, if you go through four years of college without ever being offended, you should ask for your money back."

Too often, we take our First Amendment rights for granted. FIRE exists to help keep our First Amendment fire burning on college campuses across America. It is nice to see UT recognized for being on the leading edge of promoting free speech among our nation’s next generation of leaders. FIRE’s complete report can be viewed online at www. thefire.org.

Schools: University of Tennessee – Knoxville