5 ways college presidents can prove their commitment to free speech

5 ways college presidents can prove their commitment to free speech

October 19, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


I’m constantly approached by people
concerned about the state of free speech on campus. Too often, they feel helpless
in the face of these massive multi-billion dollar institutions, but
this hopelessness is entirely misplaced. Basic reforms haven’t even been tried
yet. This is my list of five basic common-sense reforms everybody should
demand the president of their university implement. Stop violating the law. Public
universities that maintain broad and vague speech codes or punish people on
the basis of their viewpoint are breaking the law. Meanwhile private
campuses that promise freedom of speech but then do not deliver it are
defrauding incoming students. Dumping speech codes is the right thing to do,
and incidentally may save your college from being on the losing end of a
lawsuit. Precommit and recommit to free speech and inquiry. This means that you
should ask your university president to adopt statements reaffirming freedom of
speech, academic freedom, and freedom of inquiry at the college. The University of
Chicago’s 2015 statement is great, but many colleges choose to formulate their
own. Defend the free speech rights of your students and faculty loudly, clearly,
and early. I can’t tell you how much of a difference it makes when a university
president speaks out when there is a controversy about professor or student
speech and says in no uncertain terms that the person’s speech is, and should
be, protected at that college. Time and time again, I’ve seen this show of
leadership stop embarrassing free speech controversies before they snowball. Teach
free speech from day one. Amazingly, most colleges in the country do not have
serious sessions on the meaning and philosophy of freedom of speech and
academic freedom in their orientation programs. Every school in the country
should have these, and they should be formulated and run by university faculty
who understand the deep philosophy behind the university’s mission. Be
scholars. Collect data. Every major university in the country has the
capacity to pull its own students and faculty to figure out what the climate
for free speech, productive discussions, and inquiry unlike on their campus. This
kind of data would be essential and let us know where the problems are and what
needs to be done. Now is not the time to give up a higher education. Now is the
time to demand simple reforms that can make a big difference.
FIRE stands ready to help in any way to convince universities to take these
steps to guarantee a free and open exchange of ideas on college campuses. Okay.
As soon as this video ends, please sit down and write the president of your
alma mater, your kids or grandkids alma mater, or just your local college, right
now, and ask them to make these five reforms. It can make all the difference.
Click the link below to find out how you can take action!