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Christopher Newport University releases “University Statement on Free Speech and Expression”

After gathering input from the campus community through discussion sessions and comment solicitation, Christopher Newport University has adopted its “University Statement on Free Speech and Expression.” The statement, which echoes the core values of the “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression” at the University of Chicago (better known as the “Chicago Statement”), will serve as a set of guiding principles for the university.  

CNU becomes the 53rd university or faculty body to adopt a statement that expressly endorses free expression and inquiry in the model of the Chicago Statement. A public university located in Newport News, Virginia, CNU is only the third university in the state to adopt a version of the Chicago Statement.

During CNU’s review and deliberation over the Statement on Free Speech and Expression, the university engaged all members of the campus community in multiple dialogue sessions. Students were particularly active in advocating for the adoption of a statement of principles modeled after the Chicago Statement.

Two students, Moriah Poliakoff and Rachel Wagner, began their work over a year ago, engaging with fellow students, faculty, and the administration in order to discuss the value of adopting a free speech statement. Not only did they draft an initial statement using the Chicago Statement as a template, but they also encouraged various university stakeholders to sign on to it. To get their message out to the community, the pair solicited signatures in support of their resolution, and penned opinion pieces both in the student newspaper and on the American Council of Trustees and Alumni’s (ACTA’s) blog.

A strong endorsement of the principles of freedom of expression, the new statement describes CNU’s role in shaping “responsible citizens,” explaining that “[s]tudents must learn how to subject ideas to the crucible of rigorous discussion and debate, and have their own ideas confronted with the same rigorous examination.” In order to facilitate such an educational environment, CNU has pledged to become a true “marketplace of ideas.” Borrowing from the Chicago Statement, the university promises to be “committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, and offers to its students, faculty and staff the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn.”

At several different points in the statement, the university strongly endorses the idea of counter-speech, or the practice of responding to speech with which one disagrees with more speech. Rather than ignoring ideas that some in the community deem wrong or offensive, the university encourages those in its community to actively “engage in robust counter-speech that challenges the merits of ideas we disagree with, exposes them for what they are, dismantle[] specious arguments, and identif[y] fear mongering and fallacy.”

The president of CNU, Paul Trible, recently wrote about the university’s two new statements on diversity and inclusion and free speech and expression, reflecting the idea that these values need not be in conflict, as they are so often portrayed. “We want to live in a world,” president Trible remarked, “made vibrant by an array of people who have experiences, opinions, and cultures unlike our own.” This inspiring vision from president Trible describes a thriving academic community that values a diversity of viewpoints, backgrounds, and perspectives among its students, faculty, and staff. We hope colleges and universities across the nation will consider making similar commitments to freedom of expression by adopting free speech statements of their own.

Interested in adopting a free speech statement on your campus? Contact us today!

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