Board endorses principles of free speech, open debate

May 15, 2015  


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue’s Board of Trustees on Friday (May 15) passed a resolution endorsing an overarching commitment to free speech among all members of the Purdue University community and affirming a set of principles designed to protect free expression.

The Commitment to Freedom of Expression and a revision of Purdue policies are in part a response to a resolution from Purdue Student Government and Purdue Graduate Student Government calling on the university to “protect and ensure the students’ and faculty’s moral and legal right to freedom of speech guaranteed under the United States Constitution.”

The statement adopts principles and language recently articulated at the University of Chicago in its Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression, stating that 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.”

Purdue is the first public institution to adopt the Chicago principles; Princeton University faculty adopted such a statement in early April.

Geoffrey Stone, the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago and chair of the university committee that wrote the report, said, "I was delighted to learn that Princeton adopted the core of our statement and am equally pleased that Purdue has done so. Although our statement was rooted in the history of the University of Chicago, we believe it is an excellent statement of principles for universities generally.

“College is a time to learn to deal with challenging, unsettling, and even offensive and hateful ideas,” Stone said. “In the real world, we are inevitably confronted with these ideas, and college should prepare our graduates to know how to respond to such ideas courageously, effectively and persuasively."

Purdue’s statement specifically encourages debate and says “ … although all 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.”

Tom Spurgeon, chair of the Purdue Board of Trustees, said, “Our commitment to open inquiry is not new, but adopting these principles provides a clear signal of our pledge to live by this commitment and these standards. As we’ve said before, a university violates its special mission if it fails to protect free and open debate. No one can expect his views to be free from vigorous challenge, but all must feel completely safe in speaking out.”

As part of its response to Purdue Student Governments’ Joint Resolution 14-01 and the adoption of the Commitment to Freedom of Expression, trustees resolved to approve revision of five policy statements that were identified by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) as not fully reflective of the University’s commitment to freedom of expression. These policy statements existed within university regulations regarding student behavior, within residence hall guidelines and within university policy related to violent behavior.

Prior to these changes, Purdue had already attained FIRE’s second-highest overall ranking with regards to freedom of expression on campus.

Policies that have been revised were updated with language that was less vague and less open to interpretation.

Based on Purdue’s revisions, FIRE has now given the university its highest rating. 

Sources: Steve Schultz, Purdue legal counsel, schult51@purdue.edu

Tom Spurgeon, trustees@purdue.edu 

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