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Georgetown University adopts ‘Chicago Statement’

The fight to defend free speech just got a boost at Georgetown University.

FIRE is pleased to announce that last week Georgetown joined a growing list of colleges and universities that have adopted policy statements committing themselves to protecting free speech that closely mirror the University of Chicago’s “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression,” better known as the “Chicago Statement.”

Georgetown’s new policy statement, which was approved by the faculty senate, board of directors, and President John J. DeGioia, comes amidst a long and heated nationwide debate over campus free speech rights. You may recall that Georgetown itself became part of this controversy in 2015 when the university stopped Bernie Sanders supporters from tabling at its law school’s campus. FIRE wrote a letter to Georgetown administrators, asking them to revise their policies related to political speech. Georgetown also had the distinction of making the list for FIRE’s 2017 “10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech."

By adopting a strong statement committing the university to upholding freedom of expression, Georgetown takes an important first step in righting past wrongs.

Here is how the new policy statement begins:

The ideas of different members of the University community will often and naturally conflict. It is not the proper role of a University to insulate individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Deliberation or debate 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 ill conceived.

The statement continues:

It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to judge the value of ideas, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting those arguments and ideas that they oppose.

If this language sounds familiar, it should. Georgetown is just the latest institution to adopt a policy that closely mirrors the Chicago Statement. Since its introduction in 2015, FIRE has touted the Chicago Statement as a model free speech policy for universities and colleges across the country.

Taking cues from the Chicago Statement, Georgetown’s new policy goes on to say:

Although members of the University community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed by other members of the community, or by individuals who are invited to campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe. To this end, the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of deliberation and debate, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.

FIRE commends Georgetown University for taking this important step toward securing free speech rights on campus. However, the work is far from over. Georgetown still earns our worst, “red light” speech code rating due to its maintenance of several policies that restrict student and faculty expression.

FIRE looks forward to working with the university in the future to revise its overall red light rating, and we hope the new policy statement brings with it a new commitment to freedom of expression.

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