Faculty propose adoption of statement on freedom of speech, expression on campus

By Steven Viera || Senior Editor

This semester, the College’s faculty voted in favor of adding a statement on free expression to the Faculty Handbook to protect the rights of not just faculty, but all members of the F&M community, to respectfully share and discuss ideas. Before it can appear in the Faculty Handbook, however, the Board of Trustees must vote to approve it as well, which may occur as soon as this Summer.

“This is a statement from the faculty, but it’s what we want for everybody,” said Matthew Hoffman, associate professor of history and Judaic Studies and president of F&M’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

The statement—inspired by the 2015 University of Chicago Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression, which itself has been adopted by twelve colleges and universities, such as Princeton and Columbia—enshrines two major values: “Sustaining a diverse community of students, faculty, and staff in which all are welcomed and are encouraged to participate in the free expression of ideas,” as well as “Condemning behavior and speech whose demonstrable intent is to demean, harass, or limit the sense of security and belonging of any member of the College community as they participate in the pursuit of knowledge,” in addition to granting professors’ agency to determine their research or the content of their classes without fear of undue censorship.

According to Hoffman, 54 professors from departments across campus signed their names to the motion, which passed by a margin of 81 in favor, 10 opposed, and four abstaining. He also noted that the motion includes a recommendation to add the statement on free expression to the College Life Manual. If adopted, Hoffman—who has been in touch with Margaret Hazlett, dean of the College, to discuss these efforts—said that the statement will become a part of the institutional values of F&M.

Earlier this semester, the faculty discussed establishing a system of anonymous bias reporting on campus; at that time, Hoffman began the conversation on freedom of expression in order to ensure an open discourse on campus. He said that there can be a tendency to conflate ideas and hate speech, and although it is important to condemn the latter, we must take steps to ensure that all students and members of the F&M community have the opportunity to share ideas openly and respectfully as an educational exercise.

“It’s really more about the learning environment,” he said.

Hoffman also feels as though many of these themes will be discussed in this Thursday’s Common Hour lecture by Robert Shibley, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and encouraged both students and faculty to attend.

Senior Steven Viera is the Senior Editor. His email is sviera@fandm.edu.

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