Free speech alliance announced by 13 college presidents

August 18, 2023 • 12:00 pm

Inside Higher Ed has announced that the presidents of 13 American universities have started an alliance to promote free speech at their schools. About time, if you ask me! Every school, private or public, should have a free-speech policy that abides by the First Amendment, and also abide by Chicago’s Kalven policy of institutional neutrality except on issues that directly affect the college’s mission.

Click below to read:

An excerpt:

A group of 13 college presidents announced the formation of a group to “champion free expression” at their institutions as higher education grapples with free speech issues nationwide, from speakers being shouted down to professors losing jobs over their perceived politics.

The group—known as the Campus Call for Free Expression—is launching a coordinated effort across their campuses to support free speech, according to a press release from The Institute for Citizens & Scholars and the James L. Knight Foundation. The Institute for Citizens & Scholars, a nonprofit, is the coordinating body while the Knight Foundation is providing $250,000 in funding.

The 13 participating institutions are: Benedict College; Claremont McKenna College; Cornell University; DePauw University; Duke University; James Madison University; Rollins College; Rutgers University; University of Notre Dame; University of Pittsburgh; University of Richmond; Wellesley College; and Wesleyan University.

But this part is pretty lame:

Actions at individual universities will vary. The press release noted that participating institutions will emphasize free expression in orientation, scholarly events, convocation speeches, seminars, trainings and various other activities.

“Higher education plays a crucial role in preparing our young people to thrive and develop the skills necessary to become empowered citizens and leaders of the future,” Rajiv Vinnakota, President of the Institute for Citizens & Scholars, said in a press release announcing the launch of the Campus Call for Free Expression. “This diverse coalition of college presidents—from institutions large and small, private and public—is united in its commitment to ensuring students are civically well-informed, productively engaged, and committed to democracy.”

Only one thing needs to be stipulated: “This university will adhere in its principles to the interpretation of the First Amendment laid out by American courts.”  How this is publicized can vary, but surely incoming students need a small unit on free expression and what it means.  This is, for example, what Stanford University law school lacked when its students went wild and deplatformed a visiting judge because they found his politics too conservative. (The school has since promised to abide by free-speech principles and not allow students to go wild with censoriousness.)

The second part, “commitment to democracy” and the like, is okay but still lame. The purpose of free speech in college is more than just to prepare students for their civic duties: it’s to ensure that they understand the U.S. Constitution and, most of all, to practice freedom of speech in college, where it is of paramount importance for a good education.

FIRE’s Campus Disinvitation Database, for instance, lists 25 instances of attempts to censor speech in 2022 alone, with 21 of these coming from the Left (over the past decade or so, the bulk of censorship attempts on campus have come from the Left rather than the Right.

Here’s an example from Harvard, with the disinvitation coming from the Left:

Feminism philosopher Devin Buckley was disinvited from lecture at Harvard University English department colloquium over opposition to her views on gender and trans issues.

6 thoughts on “Free speech alliance announced by 13 college presidents

  1. I would have no idea if this will come to anything but it seems odd that the group includes private and public institutions. The obligations are certainly not the same. I notice the James Knight Foundation currently has community programs in 18 location, one of them being Wichita, Kansas. Maybe with their interest they might want to become involved in our little scandal here in Marion Kansas where the local Newspaper was attacked by the local police, shut down and equipment taken. A pretty large 1st Amendment violation (Freedom of the Press).

    1. Maybe the legal obligations for private and public universities are not the same, but the appropriate and proper stance for any institution regarding themselves as a “university” is surely the same.

      1. Yes, appropriate and proper, that is what our democracy is working on today. Regarding our institution/Universities they are pretty busy right now attempting to determine their place in the hypocrisy of big time college football. It’s kind of an open season right now.

  2. Sort of a propos of this:

    A visitor from Harvard let drop that Carole Hooven had left the Human Evolutionary Biology department. Her web site says she’s moved to the psychology department and is working in Steven Pinker’s lab. So I guess she was finally hounded out of her faculty job in HEB? Sad if true.

  3. This is a timely initiative, if a bit timid. Wish them well and that it spreads like purple loosestrife.

    Paul Viminitz, Professor of Philosophy at University of Lethbridge in Alberta is suing his university over its denial of his academic freedom when it canceled a scheduled talk he had invited a controversial visiting professor to give earlier this year, and then again when it failed to protect her from the hecklers’ veto when she tried to speak anyway in an open common area of the university. He gives his thoughts here in his own blog, which I am describing as a philosopher’s take on the death of academic freedom.

    (“Jonah” referred to in his piece a student and co-complainant.)

  4. Interesting to see three institutions that I’ve either been a student or faculty member at, in those 13.

Leave a Reply