Students: 5 reasons you should advocate for the ‘Chicago Statement’ on your campus

By September 19, 2018

Lately, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding the University of Chicago’s free speech policy statement, the “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression” (better known as the “Chicago Statement”).

Since its introduction in 2015, legislatures in both California and Tennessee have called upon institutions of higher education in their respective states to adopt a version of the Chicago Statement. Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos urged colleges and universities to adopt the statement in a Constitution Day address regarding free expression. Arizona State University recently became the 45th institution to embrace the Chicago Statement. So, why should you urge your university to adopt the statement? Let’s explore some reasons below.

1. The Statement reaffirms that the core purpose of a university is free inquiry, discourse, and debate.

As eloquently written in the Chicago Statement, “without a vibrant commitment to free and open inquiry, a university ceases to be a university.” Universities exist in order to seek truth and cultivate a marketplace of ideas that fuels inquiry and debate. What better way to memorialize a commitment to this purpose than by adopting a free speech statement?

2. An affirmative commitment to free expression spurs policy change.

One way to get the conversation started about improving the campus climate for free expression is by discussing the adoption of a free speech statement. Once you engage  faculty members, fellow students, and administrators to consider the innate value of free expression, the logical next step is to work to ensure the university’s speech codes align with those values.

3. The list of institutions and faculty bodies that have chosen to actively prioritize free expression is ever-growing.

At present, 45 institutions and faculty bodies have adopted a statement of principles reflecting the importance of free expression on their campus. There is great value in being added to this list of institutions that have prioritized campus expression in such a public and principled way.

4. Robust free expression protections ensure that all voices are heard on campus.

Given the political polarization in our nation today, the viewpoint-neutral principles of the First Amendment are more important than ever before. The exercise of debate, disagreement, and discussion encouraged by the Chicago Statement expands upon the First Amendment and works to create a campus culture in which all ideas – not just those of the majority – are tested in the marketplace.

5. Promoting the Statement creates open dialogue and encourages the opening of forums in which members of the university community can discuss the values of both the institution and its individual members.

What better way to engage in discussion and debate than by discussing the very principles of the Chicago Statement: the inherent value of free inquiry, the freedom to disagree, and other core First Amendment principles. Should a university highly value inquiry and debate? Does a private university have a moral obligation to uphold its students’ full First Amendment rights even though it is not legally obligated to do so? These are important discussions in which all campus communities should engage.

Inspired? You’re in luck. The FIRE Student Network recently launched the fall 2018 activism toolkit, Commit to Expression, based on the Chicago Statement. This toolkit gives students all the resources, ideas, and guidance needed to advocate for the adoption of a free speech statement on their campus. And did we mention there are prizes?

Sign up today to take part in the Commit to Expression toolkit, and help ensure that a culture of free speech and robust debate is cultivated at your school for generations to come.

Faculty or community member? Contact us today for ways you can get involved!

Schools: University of Chicago