University of Minnesota feature
University of Minnesota Moves Closer to Adopting Powerful Free Speech Statement

By May 3, 2016

The University of Minnesota Faculty Consultative Committee (FCC) has drafted a statement of four core principles regarding the role of free expression on campus, which is now working through the university approval process. Professor Dale Carpenter, one of the statement’s sponsors, reported at The Volokh Conspiracy today that it was unanimously approved by the “top committee representing the faculty.”

As my colleague Alex Morey explained last month, the statement rests on the following ideas:

(1) A public university must be absolutely committed to protecting free speech, both for constitutional and academic reasons.

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(2) Free speech includes protection for speech that some find offensive, uncivil, or even hateful.

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(3) Free speech cannot be regulated on the ground that some speakers are thought to have more power or more access to the mediums of speech than others.

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(4) Even when protecting free speech conflicts with other important University values, free speech must be paramount.

In addition to the original statement, the FCC has added five recommendations for protecting speech. These include:

(1) Foster understanding of the meaning and value of free speech at the University.

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(2) Encourage a climate of respectful debate about controversial topics.

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(3) Vigorously protect free speech when serious disruption is anticipated or actually occurs.

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(4) Create a position of free-speech advocate or vest the powers of a free-speech
advocate within the existing faculty governance structure.

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(5) Establish minimum procedural protections for faculty, students, and others
subject to investigation.

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These recommendations are innovative and, if implemented, would create a structure for protecting free speech at UMN. We are particularly intrigued by the position of a free speech advocate and can see such a position making an important impact on the culture to foster the dynamic exchange of ideas. According to a recent article in the Minnesota Daily, not everyone recognizes the value of free speech on campus. Some student government officials have criticized the proposed statement as “pompous and condescending.” A free speech advocate would have an invaluable role to play in addressing these concerns.

FIRE looks forward to the adoption of this important policy.

Schools: University of Minnesota