University of Wisconsin adopts sweeping free-speech statement

December 13, 2015 • 10:00 am

ABC News reports that the regents of The University of Wisconsin have approved a statement on free speech and academic freedom modeled after my own university’s admirable policy:

University of Wisconsin System leaders approved a resolution Friday affirming free speech and academic freedom, joining colleges across the country that have officially proclaimed their devotion to free expression amid concerns academia is trying to protect students from being offended.

The resolution, adopted by a vote of 16-2, states that the university shouldn’t shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome or offensive.

“These are not just pretty words we are going to put in a brass plaque,” Regent Jose Delgado said. “The ability to speak in this country is a rational, academic way is under attack. You’ve got to be able to listen hard, even if it hurts.”

You can find the UW statement here, as part of a larger document. The key provision (their emphasis):

Accordingly, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents expresses its expectation that the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression will be upheld because today, as previously stated by Regents on September 18, 1894:

“Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”

The Chicago policy should be a model for universities everwhere, and has already been the basis for similar statements by Purdue, Princeton, and Johns Hopkins. Here’s law professor Geoff Stone, head of Chicago’s committee to draft the statement, talking about its origin and aims:

Stone, with a distinguished career in law and sweeping expertise on the First Amendment, would make a great Supreme Court justice. One can only hope that, if there’s a conservative vacancy and a Democratic President, that might happen. Here’s one of his talks on the present Court:


20 thoughts on “University of Wisconsin adopts sweeping free-speech statement

  1. Geoff Stone could have my vote anytime.

    Frightening information on the current supreme court but it should be known by all. In reality I think he would agree, they have turned the court into something more like a legislature, both partisan and political. The low opinion of the court is well justified.

  2. Stones “On the Common Good” was a very succinct statement of the problem I perceive with today’s SCOTUS. He mentions how Americans are pretty unhappy with the court and this unhappiness is easily justified by noting the terrible polarization and conservatism of the court. His detailing of the why this is the case and why it is a bad thing should make Americans even more unhappy. Let’s hope unhappiness is the beginning of change.

  3. Unfortunately, Stone is 69 and too old to be appointed. In order to perpetuate their influence, recent presidents have preferred appointments in their 40s.

  4. Very happy to see The University of Wisconsin adopting this stance, and national news reporting it. I’ve heard a number of people on the regressive left, and SJW’s arguing that we here at WEIT, and others who see this as a matter of import are making a mountain out of a mole hill, and even claiming we’re more interested in giving voice to racists, bigots, and Islamophobes than we are in social justice. The implication being of course that we are closet racists, bigots, or Islamophobes.

  5. Thirty years ago, Geoff Stone was a hotshot young legal scholar teaching a civil-rights seminar as a visiting professor at my law school.

    I was that guy, Geoff, sitting in the back row, all the way over on the left, seeming to be napping maybe, but all the while paying rapt attention.

    It’s heartening to see Professor Stone still out there championing free speech.

    1. Just to prove I wasn’t in fact napping, I still recall the subject of Prof. Stone’s excellent seminar lo those years ago — the Warren Court’s struggle during the early 1960s, before passage of the Civil Rights Acts, to find some grounds, constitutional or statutory, for prohibiting private discrimination by businesses offering public accommodation. The good professor was at the time writing a book covering the topic, IIRC.

  6. The University of Wisconsin is in Madison. Madison was an ardent supporter & architect of our 1st Amendment freedoms and a very influential Founding Father. Coincidence? I think not.

    1. Hate to bring this up again but James Madison, during the big meet in Philly, did not even want a Bill of Rights and voted no along with a majority. That is why there was no Bill of Rights until around three years after the Constitution had been ratified.

      Sorry to break up your Coincidence. Madison is home of the FFRF and that’s a big deal.

  7. This offends me! Where are we meeting to protest? I just realized today that we also need to eliminate the word, “boy” from American speech and all dictionaries, as it was used as a racist term……..

  8. It’s great that the university adopted this resolution, but equally newsworthy (and very troubling) is that some students actually protested it. There are some details here:

    One student said “I don’t think limiting micro-aggressions is limiting free speech or limiting the opportunity to have an equitable education.” Another student “read a speech about how the resolution would open the door to hate speech.” Yes…and love speech, and indifferent speech, and clever speech, and boring speech, and THE SPEECH THIS STUDENT WAS READING.

    This is the most dramatic example I’ve seen of students setting themselves in direct opposition to free speech.

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