A few months ago, I mentioned that the U of Chicago had issued a Statement on Free Expression, which the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) adapted into a model statement. In November, I submitted a version of the model statement to our Faculty Council. The council approved offering the statement to the full faculty, albeit as a non-binding “sense of the faculty” sort of resolution.
I’m pleased to report that the statement was passed at yesterday’s faculty meeting. While it isn’t the definitive policy statement I’d like it to be (that non-binding thing, again), I think it’s a good first step, a declaration that here in Mondoville, we believe that college is a place worth defending as a place for the free exchange of ideas, and that the proper response to bad ideas isn’t suppressing them, but providing better ones.
Meanwhile, down the road at Flagship, the abovementioned FIRE people have filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the school. From a FIRE press release:
Last fall, [Young Americans for Liberty and the College Libertarians] held an outdoor event displaying posters with examples of expression that had been censored on campuses across the country. Three other students filed formal complaints, claiming that some of the posters were “offensive” and “triggering.” In response, USC served [student Ross] Abbott with a “Notice of Charge” letter and launched an investigation for “discrimination,” threatening him with punishment up to and including expulsion for his protected speech.
[…] The free speech event, held in a USC “free speech zone” on November 23, 2015, featured information about 11 instances of campus censorship, most of which required FIRE’s intervention. These examples included Modesto Junior College in California preventing a student from handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution; Chicago State University censoring a faculty blog; and George Washington University suspending a Jewish student for placing a souvenir Hindu swastika, obtained on a trip to India, on his residence hall’s bulletin board.
Thinking the event might prove controversial, Abbott showed the posters to the director of campus life beforehand [Emphasis mine — Prof. M], who approved them and acknowledged the importance of raising awareness about censorship. That did not stop USC from serving Abbott the day after the event with a Notice of Charge letter demanding that he meet with an administrator from the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs to respond to the complaints.
On December 8, 2015, Abbott and YAL President Michael Kriete met with Assistant Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs Carl Wells, a defendant in the lawsuit, for 45 minutes. Wells required Abbott to answer for each poster by explaining the situation it described and justifying the message that he and the others were trying to send. In response, Abbott gave Wells a letter asking that his disciplinary record be expunged, that the university clarify that controversial speech that is protected by the First Amendment will not be penalized under USC policies, and that USC adopt the Chicago Principles, a reaffirmation of the importance of free speech and academic freedom on campus.
Good luck, guys — and you know, the Spawn’s decision to return to Mondoville is looking better every day.