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Friday, October 1, 2021
“Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn . . . . [I]t is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.”
—Excerpt from the Chicago Statement
What is the Chicago Statement?
The “Chicago Statement” refers to the free speech policy statement produced by the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago. In July of 2014, University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Eric D. Isaacs tasked the Committee with “articulating the University’s overarching commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation among all members of the University’s community.” The Committee, which was chaired by esteemed University of Chicago Law School professor Geoffrey Stone, released the report in January of 2015.
This Statement is part of a long tradition of reports emphasizing the importance of freedom of speech at institutions of higher learning, including the American Association of University Professors’ famous 1915 “Declaration of Principles” and 1940 “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure,” Yale University’s “Woodward Report,” and the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report.
FIRE quickly endorsed the Chicago Statement because it embodies the principles that FIRE defends every day. The statement is also an important reflection of how the principles of free speech are essential to the core purpose of a university. Since its release, FIRE has been working with colleges and universities around the country to adopt their own version of the Chicago Statement, in order to combat censorship on campus and protect the free speech rights and academic freedom of students and professors.
Who has adopted the Statement?
Faculty bodies, administrations, and institutional governing boards have officially endorsed the Chicago Statement at over fifty-five institutions including Princeton University, Purdue University, American University, Columbia University, Georgetown University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among others.
Why is adopting the Chicago Statement important?
When your school adopts the Chicago Statement, it shows that your institution values free expression for all students and faculty. Free speech rights benefit everyone on campus, and reaffirm the core purpose of a university – a place for free inquiry, debate, and discourse. Whether your goal is to campaign, protest, do research, or simply learn in an environment that promotes open inquiry and the free exchange of ideas, the Chicago Statement will help hold your institution accountable for protecting the free expression rights of students and faculty.
My school maintains “yellow light” or “red light” speech codes. Can we still adopt the Chicago Statement?
Yes. In fact, adopting a version of the Chicago Statement often gives the impetus for speech code reform. Thus, the adoption of the Chicago Statement by non-administrative groups can be an important step toward securing student and faculty free speech rights and achieving FIRE’s highest, “green light” rating. When a faculty senate, university-wide committee, or student government endorses the Statement, it sends a strong message to university leadership that students and faculty want their speech to be fully protected.
My university earns a green light rating from FIRE. Do we still need to adopt the Chicago Statement?
The green light rating is given to colleges and universities whose policies nominally protect freedom of speech. Even if your school has received FIRE’s green light rating, it is still important to adopt the Chicago Statement. A free speech statement is a set of principles the university community aspires to achieve. Adopting the Chicago Statement describes how the university hopes to cultivate an atmosphere of expression and debate – an endeavor that is important even if university policy already nominally protects free speech.
How can I bring the Chicago Statement to my campus?
Here are several tips for ensuring that your university will be the next institution to stand in solidarity with the Chicago Statement’s principles:
Work to pass a student government resolution calling on the university to adopt its own version of the Chicago Statement.
Reach out to faculty members and work with faculty governing bodies on campus.
Build a broad coalition of students and groups, particularly across the ideological spectrum, to support the Chicago Statement and raise awareness on campus.
Publish articles and op-eds in student newspapers and other outlets.
Host events on campus, such as debates, speakers, and panels to discuss the principles supported by the Chicago Statement.
Communicate and collaborate with members of your university’s administration.
Host a petition drive, asking students to pledge their support for the Chicago Statement’s principles in a petition that will go to the administration.
FIRE’s Chicago Statement Resources
Model Freedom of Expression Resolution Based on the Chicago Statement
Template Letter to Alma Mater
Washington Post op-ed by FIRE’s Will Creeley and University of Chicago Law Professor Geoffrey Stone
FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff in The Huffington Post: “Every University in the Country Should Adopt the University of Chicago’s Academic Freedom Statement”
FIRE’s Newsdesk article “Universities should endorse free expression now, avoid criticism later”Pledge Your Support for the Chicago Statement
The Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago was appointed in July 2014 by President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Eric D. Isaacs “in light of recent events nationwide that have tested institutional commitments to free and open discourse.” The Committee’s charge was to draft a statement “articulating the University’s overarching commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation among all members of the University’s community.”
The Committee has carefully reviewed the University’s history, examined events at other institutions, and consulted a broad range of individuals both inside and outside the University. This statement reflects the long-standing and distinctive values of the University of Chicago and affirms the importance of maintaining and, indeed, celebrating those values for the future.
From its very founding, the University of Chicago has dedicated itself to the preservation and celebration of the freedom of expression as an essential element of the University’s culture. In 1902, in his address marking the University’s decennial, President William Rainey Harper declared that “the principle of complete freedom of speech on all subjects has from the beginning been regarded as fundamental in the University of Chicago” and that “this principle can neither now nor at any future time be called in question.”
Thirty years later, a student organization invited William Z. Foster, the Communist Party’s candidate for President, to lecture on campus. This triggered a storm of protest from critics both on and off-campus. To those who condemned the University for allowing the event, President Robert M. Hutchins responded that “our students . . . should have the freedom to discuss any problem that presents itself.” He insisted that the “cure” for ideas we oppose “lies through open discussion rather than through inhibition.” On a later occasion, Hutchins added that “free inquiry is indispensable to the good life, that universities exist for the sake of such inquiry, [and] that without it they cease to be universities.”
In 1968, at another time of great turmoil in universities, President Edward H. Levi, in his inaugural address, celebrated “those virtues which from the beginning and until now have characterized our institution.” Central to the values of the University of Chicago, Levi explained, is a profound commitment to “freedom of inquiry.” This freedom, he proclaimed, “is our inheritance.”
More recently, President Hanna Holborn Gray observed that “education should not be intended to make people comfortable, it is meant to make them think. Universities should be expected to provide the conditions within which hard thought, and therefore strong disagreement, independent judgment, and the questioning of stubborn assumptions, can flourish in an environment of the greatest freedom.”
The words of Harper, Hutchins, Levi, and Gray capture both the spirit and the promise of the University of Chicago.Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University the community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn. Except insofar as limitations on that freedom are necessary to the functioning of the University, the University of Chicago fully respects and supports the freedom of all members of the University community “to discuss any problem that presents itself.” Of course, the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University 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.
The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish.TheUniversity may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, orthat is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University. In addition, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University. But these are narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression, and it is vitally important that these exceptions never be used in a manner that is inconsistent with the University’s commitment to a completely free and open discussion of ideas.
In a word, the University’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 University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University 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. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.
As a corollary to the University’s commitment to protect and promote free expression, members of the University community must also act in conformity with the principle of free expression. Although members of the University 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 University 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.
As Robert M. Hutchins observed, without a deep commitment to free and open inquiry, a university ceases to be a university. The University of Chicago’s long-standing commitment to this principle lies at the very core of our University’s greatness. That is our inheritance, and it is our promise to the future.
Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, Chair
Marianne Bertrand, Chris P. Dialynas, Distinguished Service Professor of Economics, Booth School of Business
Angela Olinto, Homer J. Livingston Professor, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Enrico Fermi Institute, and the College
Mark Siegler, Lindy Bergman Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine and Surgery
David A. Strauss, Gerald Ratner Distinguished Service Professor of Law
Kenneth.Warren, Fairfax M.Cone Distinguished Service Professor, Department of English and the College
AmandaWoodward, Williams.Gray Professor, Department of Psychology and the College35 Universities Adopt 'The Chicago Statement' On Free Speech--1,606 To Go