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Franklin & Marshall Board of Trustees Approves Freedom of Expression Statement

This Valentine’s Day, while couples reaffirmed their commitment to one another, Franklin & Marshall College (F&M) reaffirmed its commitment to free speech. On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania college announced that its board of trustees had approved a “Statement on Freedom of Expression,” initially endorsed by F&M faculty last year. The statement is a modified version of the exemplary Chicago Statement, which FIRE has endorsed as the gold standard for free speech policy statements in higher education.

As some of our readers may remember, the college’s faculty body first adopted a version of the statement at a meeting last February. However, the board of trustees initially declined to endorse the statement, citing “legal” concerns. FIRE is pleased to see that the board of trustees has now approved a new version of the statement.

While aspirational in nature, the statement helps codify the college’s expectations for respecting freedom of expression, and affirms that:

Because Franklin & Marshall College is committed to the ideal of free and open inquiry in all matters, it extends to all members of the College community the broadest possible latitude to express themselves freely and to challenge the views of others.  The College vigorously values the creation and maintenance of a climate in which all members of the College community are welcomed and are encouraged to participate in the free expression of ideas. Inasmuch as the spark of truth often comes forth only after the clash of differing opinions, we view freedom of expression as highly valuable because it encourages multiple opinions, allows them to coalesce and/or clash, and opens them to the community’s reflections.

The statement also outlines the importance of creating a community that fosters “critical discourse” and states that “it is not the proper role of the College to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, uncivil or even deeply offensive.” Instead, it suggests that the “best response to ideas that [college community members] find offensive is speech, not censorship.”

F&M still earns FIRE’s lowest, “red light” speech code rating in our Spotlight Speech Codes Database due to a sexual harassment policy that clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech on campus. The college also maintains several “yellow light” policies at the present time. FIRE hopes the enactment of its Statement on Freedom of Expression sparks the discussion necessary to reform F&M’s speech codes.

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