Sometimes FIRE’s Newsdesk can feel like a parade of bad news, from reporting on administrators suppressing speech on campus to detailing unconstitutional policies. So it’s a great occasion when we have the opportunity to report some positive campus free speech news. Last week, the University of Colorado system sent a letter endorsing freedom of expression to all incoming first-year students.
This effort had been in the works since June, after the University of Colorado Board of Regents approved the distribution of the letter to incoming first-year students.
“The mission is quite simple,” said Colorado Springs employment attorney and University of Colorado Regent Chance Hill at the time. “Its primary purpose and aim is to demonstrate and signal to all first-year undergrad students at all four campuses the first week of the academic year, that the senior leadership is committed to building a campus culture that values free speech in all its forms and diversity in all its forms.”
The letter, which was sent out to all new students last Tuesday, endorses free expression and academic freedom and challenges students to rise to the occasion when confronted with new and different ideas on campus. It also crucially distinguishes between academic freedom and freedom of expression, noting that the latter applies to activities even outside the classroom. The letter offers a bold call to students for reasoned debate as they engage with each other on complicated or hot button issues:
Every person in our community has a responsibility to protect the university as a forum for free expression of ideas, and we uphold our students’ ability to voice their beliefs, even when others construe their speech as wrong or insensitive. Rather than attempting to interfere with or suppress ideas you find offensive or unwarranted, we expect you to challenge them through the exercise of reason and debate.
The Board of Regents’ letter builds on the great progress made by the University of Colorado System, which just last year passed several new policies to protect student and faculty expressive rights. This included a free speech policy statement modeled after the “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression” at the University of Chicago (the “Chicago Statement”).
FIRE is glad to see the University of Colorado system continue to make freedom of expression a priority and hopes campus administrators will keep up the good work by building on the progress already made!