I’ve mentioned in the past that my first choice for an undergrad institution was the U of Chicago, but the finances just weren’t there for me in 1983. All the same, I’ve always had a soft spot for the school, and I was tickled today when Margaret “University Diaries” Soltan mentioned that the U of C recently issued a statement on free expression (Spoiler: They’re for it), and that the good folks at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) have called on other academics to sign in and show support for the ideas contained in the statement.
So I did, and so can you.
But that’s just a start. FIRE has also released a model version of the Chicago Statement, for academics who believe in the free exchange of ideas — even offensive ideas, even loathsome ideas. That’s all I needed; a few minutes after discovering that, I did a quick and dirty edit and have submitted a draft of the Statement to Mondoville’s Faculty Council, with an eye toward the statement’s adoption by the Council, and eventually the full faculty. Here are a couple of highlights from the model statement:
[T]he ideas of different members of the [INSTITUTION] community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the [INSTITUTION] to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the [INSTITUTION] greatly values civility, and although all members of the [INSTITUTION] community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.
[…] In a word, the [INSTITUTION]’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the [INSTITUTION] community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the [INSTITUTION] community, not for the [INSTITUTION] as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.
[…] Although members of the [INSTITUTION] community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed on campus, and to criticize and contest speakers who are invited to express their views on campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe. To this end, the [INSTITUTION] has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.
In a sense, I suppose I’m calling for a codification of something that has been in my syllabus for years. And you know what? It feels pretty damned good. Besides, what good is tenure if you don’t really have anything to hold onto?
This week happens to be Banned Books Week, and it’s an opportunity for lots of folks to sneer at those who would censor, from either end of the political spectrum. But again, as someone who deals in words and ideas, it’s not enough simply to smile and nod, nor is it something we can solely confine to printed works. Why not act?
If you’re an academic, I encourage you to sign FIRE’s statement of support, and to consider adopting the model statement at your institution. If you’re an alum, current student, or friend of a college or university, you might want to consider writing a note of support to your school of choice.
I’ll let you know if I hear anything here in Mondoville.
Warren “Professor Mondo” Moore, Ph.D., signatory #89