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Fast Facts: Adopting Institutional Neutrality

Scales - Symbol of law and justice

“The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic.” 

  • A college should host critics — not become the critic itself.
  • When colleges take positions on social and political issues, they put their thumb on the scale in debates that are better left to faculty and students.
  • When colleges take positions on social and political issues, they chill the expression of students and faculty who might dissent from those positions.  

What is institutional neutrality?

Institutional Neutrality is the idea that colleges and universities should not, as institutions, take positions on social and political issues unless those issues “threaten the very mission of the university and its values of free inquiry.” Instead, these discussions should be left to students and faculty. 

What is the Kalven Report?

The Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action, or the “Kalven Report,” is the report of the 1967 committee at the University of Chicago tasked with preparing “a statement on the University’s role in political and social action.” Chaired by Harry Kalven, Jr. — a leading First Amendment scholar — the report’s central conclusion is that neutrality is necessary to maintain a university’s fidelity to its core mission: “the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge.”

Why should my institution consider institutional neutrality? 

Colleges are increasingly asked to weigh in on social and political issues.

By clarifying the contours of its role, a university adopting the Kalven Report and committing to neutrality is better positioned to fulfill its mission of generating and disseminating knowledge. By not tethering itself to a particular position, the neutral university will welcome the fullest range of views — and reap the benefit of the wisdom produced by the resulting debate. 

Why should my institution consider adopting the Kalven Report, specifically, and not institutional neutrality more generally?

FIRE endorses the Kalven Report because it is the best articulation of institutional neutrality. The Kalven Report concisely expresses the core principles of institutional neutrality and why they matter, and it offers much-needed guidance on gray areas, addressing, for example, how college leaders can navigate speaking on their own behalf rather than for their institution.

Who has adopted institutional neutrality?

Institutions such as the University of North Carolina SystemVanderbilt University, the University of Wyoming — and, of course, the University of Chicago — have adopted official positions on institutional neutrality. Whether you are a student, faculty member, or alumnus interested in advocating for your institution to adopt institutional neutrality or an administrator interested in these principles, FIRE is here to help. 

FIRE Resources on Institutional Neutrality: