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Minnesota Faculty Senate Committee to Consider Free Speech Resolution

After several recent controversies over the limits of free speech at the University of Minnesota (UMN), including speaker shout-downs and protests over “hate speech,” faculty at the university will soon have the opportunity to commit to protecting free expression on campus.

Tomorrow, UMN Law School Professor Dale Carpenter will formally introduce a free speech resolution at a meeting of the faculty senate’s executive committee, the Faculty Consultative Committee, which sets the agenda for the full faculty senate. A nod by the committee to push the resolution forward could mean eventual university-wide adoption of the resolution.

UMN’s student newspaper the Minnesota Daily reported the executive committee has been mulling language for the resolution since last month.

If UMN ultimately adopts the resolution, it will be in good company. Last year, FIRE endorsed the University of Chicago’s statement in support of freedom of expression on campus, and the statement was subsequently endorsed by USA Today’s editorial board and the New York Daily News and covered by The Economist. Since then, nearly a dozen schools—including Princeton University, Purdue University, the University of Wisconsin System, and Columbia University—have adopted some version of the language.

As we reported here on The Torch last September, UMN’s faculty resolution would come as a welcome development to Jasper Johnson, a UMN student who last year wrote an excellent op-ed in the Daily encouraging his school to adopt its own version of the Chicago statement. He argued that “all respectable academic institutions ought to realize the essential nature of controversial discussions,” and that they “should ally themselves with the virtues inherent to freedom of speech.” Johnson said banning offensive speech limits opportunity for intellectual growth:

The subjectivity of hateful or offensive speech is what leads me to take a controversial stance: We need to protect all speech, even hate speech.

Unless we relegate ourselves to pointless, relativist discussions, offense is inevitable. If a person stands for anything — even something as basic as human rights — I can guarantee that they will upset someone else.

… The strangest and most ironic part of all this is that when we surrender our right to discuss controversial subjects, we can no longer criticize overt forms of hatred for fear of offense. Thus, we lose our most powerful tool to combat injustice: dialogue.

The job of a university is not to police speech. Doing so only limits discussion. On the contrary, the role of an academic institution is to promote intellectual growth and open discussion, which plays an invaluable role in this development. To that end, I highly recommend that the University of Minnesota adopt the “Chicago principles” to further set the bar for future freedom of speech policies.

FIRE will be watching as these timely and important developments play out at UMN.

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