A template for universities on free speech

The University of Virginia has put out this statement on free speech. It is excellent, as befits a university founded by Thomas Jefferson. Some extracts:

The University of Virginia unequivocally affirms its commitment to free expression and free inquiry. All views, beliefs, and perspectives deserve to be articulated and heard free from interference. This commitment underpins every part of the University’s mission. Free and open inquiry is the basis for the scientific method and all other modes of investigation that produce, expand, and refine knowledge. It is at the heart of the principles of academic freedom that protect faculty from interference with their research and their views. Likewise, the educational endeavor for students requires freedom to speak, write, inquire, listen, challenge, and learn, including through exposure to a range of ideas and cultivation of the tools of critical thinking and engagement. These tools are vital not only to students’ personal intellectual development but also to their futures as citizen leaders equipped to assess contending arguments and to contribute to societal progress. For all of these reasons, expression of ideas should be given the widest possible latitude.

We endorse principles of free expression and free inquiry not because every idea is equally good. To the contrary, universities test and assess ideas every day, through myriad processes of research and inquiry. These processes identify errors and generate breakthroughs of immense value for local, national, and global communities. Indeed, the University has endeavored to acknowledge its own complex legacy while promoting the free exchange of ideas that creates future advances and progress. Academic commitment to free inquiry reflects the view that every idea must be heard so that it may be subjected to the rigorous scrutiny necessary to advance knowledge. This process requires deep critical engagement, as well as humility in the recognition that many commonly accepted views have proved mistaken, while many ostracized views have illuminated the path toward truth.

A great statement.

Free and open inquiry inevitably involves conflicting views and strong disagreements. Indeed, some ideas may be offensive, noxious, and even harmful. We act as responsible members of a shared community when we engage as empathetic speakers and generous listeners. We further our common project of academic inquiry with mutual respect and intellectual openness. Even as the University affirms values of mutual respect, however, both the First Amendment and principles of free inquiry forbid these values from becoming a basis for closing off discussion. The University must not stifle protected expression, permit others to obstruct or shut down such expression, or regulate the tone or content of responses that stop short of interfering with others’ speech or violating the law. Rather than seek to control speech or countenance its silencing, the University must promote values of mutual respect, while emphasizing that their vitality rests with the self-governance of speakers and listeners.

I so wish universities here would come out and say the same.

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