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Association of American Universities endorses free speech statement

The Association of American Universities reaffirmed its commitment to freedom of expression and speech in a statement released this week.

The statement by the AAU, an organization composed of 62 higher education institutions, endorsed expressive freedom as central to the purpose of a university:

The free and open exchange of ideas and information is fundamental to the educational mission of AAU universities. The robust discussions and debates that occur at research universities have been central to the advancement of democracy, the creation of new knowledge, the fostering of educational excellence, and the promotion of social progress. As heads of these institutions we are unequivocally committed to preserving and honoring this proud heritage.

While we may deem some speech to be odious, disgraceful, and antithetical to our values, our campuses are and should remain places where ideas can be expressed free of disruption, intimidation, and violence.

The statement also solidifies AAU’s commitment “to preparing our students, faculty, and staff to engage in thoughtful, non-disruptive debate.” Embrace of thoughtful debate, even though the topics or speech may make some (or many) feel uncomfortable, is the first step in rejecting administrative censorship and the heckler’s veto.

FIRE is pleased to see these commitments articulated by these universities at a time when they are most needed. Many, if not all, of the member universities of AAU — like University of California Berkeley, Brandeis University, and Harvard University — have seen free speech controversies in the past years. Statements like this can serve as good guiding principles when issues of academic freedom and freedom of expression inevitably arise on campus.

As always, FIRE stands ready to work with any university that seeks to change its policies or adopt the Chicago Statement on campus to bring their policies in alignment with the principles set forth in the AAU statement. Students and administrators interested in advocating for a free speech statement on your campus can contact us today.

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