Vanderbilt University is the latest in a series of universities across the country to articulate a commitment to free expression on campus: Vanderbilt’s faculty senate has officially adopted an “Academic Freedom of Expression Statement,” declaring the faculty’s commitment to the promotion and protection of free expression and the exchange of ideas.
The statement promises:
As an institution committed to the advancement of knowledge, and as a training ground for the intellectual, social, and ethical leaders of the future, the university is the arena where difficult conversations and seemingly heretical thoughts deserve exploration and protection.
While the statement isn’t perfect, it’s still great to see Vanderbilt and other schools working to follow the example of the University of Chicago (UChicago). In early 2015, FIRE endorsed UChicago’s policy statement on freedom of expression—what has come to be known as simply the “Chicago Statement.” That fall, we launched a national campaign to encourage other schools to adopt its core values.
Vanderbilt currently earns a “yellow light” rating in FIRE’s Spotlight Speech Codes Database, maintaining two policies that could too easily be used to restrict speech that, off campus, would be constitutionally protected. We hope that the faculty’s endorsement of freedom of expression is the first step towards speech code reform at Vanderbilt. Perhaps Vanderbilt can take a cue from its cross-state neighbor (and longtime SEC rival) the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, which has worked with FIRE in the past to earn a “green light” rating. FIRE stands ready to assist, and offers a number of resources to help schools reform their speech codes.
FIRE looks forward to seeing more colleges and universities adopt Chicago-like statements and policies. Looking to take action? Consider using our letter template to write to your institution. Your alma mater could be next!