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University of Colorado Board of Regents adopts new policies to protect campus free expression

The University of Colorado’s Board of Regents recently passed several new policies by unanimous vote that are protective of students’ and faculty members’ expressive rights. These new policies will positively affect more than 66,000 students and approximately 6,000 faculty members in the CU system.

At its meeting in mid-September, the Board adopted multiple policies regarding freedom of expression and academic freedom, including a statement of “Governing Principles” modeled after the “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression” at the University of Chicago (the “Chicago Statement”). With its adoption, the CU system becomes the 46th institution or faculty body to adopt a version of the statement, and only the fifth university system to do so.

A principled endorsement of free speech, CU’s new Governing Principles proclaim that “[t]he proper response to ideas that members of the university community find offensive or unwarranted is to challenge those ideas through the exercise of reason and debate, rather than attempt to interfere with or suppress them.” FIRE wholeheartedly agrees, and we are pleased to add CU to the growing list of institutions and faculty bodies that have adopted a version of the Chicago Statement. Now more than ever, it is important to have an institutional commitment to free speech based on the inherent value of campus debate, dialogue, and disagreement.

Likewise, the newly adopted policies provide a framework for how CU will approach future issues surrounding freedom of expression. The changes appear both in Regent Laws (a system of guiding beliefs that are interpreted as state statutes) and Policies (organizational details designed to guide campuses to implement the Laws).

Overall, the Board adopted several provisions that impact free speech and academic freedom on all four of CU’s campuses: Article 1.E, Freedom of Expression; Policy 1.D, Freedom of Expression; Article 5.B, Faculty Academic Freedom; and Article 7.C, Student Academic Freedom. All of the Board of Regents’ Laws and Policies that have been recently reviewed can be found here.

These new policies define students’ and faculty members’ free speech rights and academic freedom, specify how campus facilities may be used in accordance with First Amendment principles, and describe CU’s institutional philosophy on free expression issues. FIRE applauds the CU system for adopting policies that provide members of the CU community with clear regulations on expressive activity, and for affirming its commitment to free speech by adopting a version of the Chicago Statement.

Further, the CU system has launched additional programming to enhance the impact of these new policies. The programming includes creating a new website to educate students and community members about their First Amendment rights; hosting debates in collaboration with the Free to Be Coalition, which “promotes diversity of ideas and free speech” on campus; and promoting other free expression-related initiatives.

Shortly after the policies were enacted, FIRE spoke to CU regent Heidi Ganahl, who was a vocal supporter of the measures passed by the Board. When asked why she advocated so strongly for robust free speech policies, Heidi explained that “[t]he university exists for no greater purpose than to encourage students to challenge their beliefs through the guarantee of free speech and open inquiry.” Not only has the CU system affirmed its commitment to free speech in written policy, but it has also taken additional steps to provide its students with programming that models healthy debate and inquiry. Heidi remarked that she was “proud of CU for implementing new policies that further support and protect free speech,” and is also “proud of the additional work we’ve done to complement those policies.”

FIRE is pleased to see the CU system affirm its commitment to free expression in official policy and through additional measures that encourage free speech on campus. If you would like to see your college or university adopt a version of the Chicago Statement or revise its speech codes, contact us today!

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