Colgate affirms commitment to freedom of expression

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Colgate faculty members and the Board of Trustees have voted unanimously to adopt an official report in support of academic freedom and freedom of expression on campus, and the Student Government Association has voted to embrace the document as a guiding principle for their organization.

The newly approved report stems from a Task Force on Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression, formed by President Brian W. Casey in 2017 to review the history of academic freedom and freedom of expression policies at Colgate and to draft a statement to guide all sectors of the university community.

The 13-member Task Force of faculty, staff, trustees, and students met regularly over seven months to fulfill its charge, and a number of campus forums were held to solicit community input. The full document, which provides critical guidance on questions of free speech for faculty, staff, and students is now available online, and was reported in today’s edition of Inside Higher Education.

“We thought it important to think through the issue of free speech in a deliberate and thoughtful manner including representation from all parts our institution,” said President Casey. “In that way, through the creation of this report, we were modeling the kind of behavior we hope to encourage in our students – to listen to all sides, think deliberately about an issue, and come up with a real-world formulation.”

Task Force Chair Spencer Kelly, professor of psychological and brain sciences, said instead of simply adopting the well-known University of Chicago report on freedom of expression, the group decided to build and improve upon the efforts of other institutions.

“We felt that freedom of expression also comes with a responsibility to listen,” said Kelly, who is coincidentally an alumnus of the University of Chicago. “This needed to be a robust support of freedom of expression, yet within a set of shared community values. We had to look at how these principles ultimately improve opportunities for teaching and learning.”

Professor of Anthropology and Peace and Conflict Studies Nancy Ries, who also served on the task force, said the document was made by the community, for the community.

“Our goal as an educational institution is to raise the level of knowledge, and all of the complex things that knowledge means and entails,” Ries said. “Academic freedom and freedom of expression go hand in hand with building knowledge, with building understanding… and I think this statement captures a kind of dynamic that can be present in the community in terms of achieving those kinds of complex goals.”

Select passages of the document include:

“As a University dedicated to the liberal arts, Colgate should support the rights of all community members to voice their views, even if unpopular, while helping them to likewise cultivate the habits of mind and skills necessary to respond effectively to views that they may find wrong or offensive.”

“Colgate should endeavor to establish and maintain a culture and community that will inspire its members to pursue knowledge with rigor and curiosity, speak and listen with care, and work so that even the quietest or most underrepresented voices among us are heard.”

“The University should educate all members of our community about the mission, goals and values of Colgate and the importance of exercising our right of freedom of expression in a manner that is in furtherance of that mission and those goals and values, remembering that the exercise of intellectual freedom without consideration of these other values may cause needless harm to our community.”

“Colgate should encourage faculty, administrators, staff, and students to model the civic behavior that forms the basis for the exercise of freedom of expression within a community committed to Colgate’s mission, goals, and values.”