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Lewis and Clark Law School faculty make statement on free speech

Last month, the faculty of Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, voted unanimously to endorse a statement on free speech. The statement reaffirms the law school’s commitment to free expression and robust debate as essential elements of a quality legal education. Endorsing the marketplace of ideas, the statement encourages community members to counter offensive or hateful speech with more speech. The statement advises:

Such views may be confronted with civil engagement and alternative speech, or ignored as unworthy of engagement, but they cannot be subject to attempted disruption or silencing.

The faculty statement simultaneously commits the institution to cultivating an atmosphere of debate while also promoting values of diversity and professionalism, despite the perceived tension between them. The statement concludes with the educators’ reflection upon the implications and importance of this balance: “[W]e cannot prepare our students for the profession they will be entering if our campus is not open to vigorous debate among people with varying backgrounds and sharply different viewpoints.”

Undoubtedly written in response to the disruption of American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers’ speech at the law school in early March, the faculty admirably seeks to improve the climate for free expression at Lewis and Clark’s law school. This statement represents a great way to start the conversation about free speech, especially in a community that has grappled with the concept so recently.

Meanwhile, the faculty senate at the undergraduate campus is working to adopt its own version of a free speech statement, drafted in the model of the “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression” at the University of Chicago (better known as the “Chicago Statement”).

In this endeavor, FIRE hopes the Lewis and Clark faculty will expound upon the law school’s faculty statement. Students and faculty at the college would be well-served by a statement with a strong emphasis on counter-speech as a response to offensive speech, a clear rejection of the idea of disruptive protests, and direct language addressing the college administration’s role in judging the content of expression (hint: it’s not an active one). These areas of clarification would expand upon the statement adopted by the law school faculty and, subsequently, improve the state of free expression at Lewis and Clark.

Happily, an early draft of the statement does just that. FIRE would be pleased to see this statement adopted by the faculty senate, and we would add it to the growing list of institutions and faculty bodies that have endorsed a version of the Chicago Statement.

Interested in advocating for a free speech statement to be adopted on your campus? Contact us today!

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