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Scholars create ‘checklist’ to help college administrators protect free speech on campus

Colleges have a lousy track record when it comes to free speech. In the past few years, numerous controversial speakers have been shut down on campuses across the country, right-of-center student groups have been denied acceptance and student journalists have been blocked from reporting on campus shenanigans.

To promote free speech on campus, two prominent scholars have provided a checklist to help college administrators protect free speech on their respective campuses. In a commentary article published in The Wall Street Journal, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law, and Howard Gillman, chancellor at the University of California-Irvine, urge their colleagues to “set clear, neutral rules and support the rights of controversial speakers before a crisis begins.”

The checklist provided by Chemerinsky and Gillman, authors of “Free Speech on Campus,” offers five simple tasks for administrators. The first two tasks call on higher education leaders to publish explicit statements of support for free speech.

From the article:

Disseminate a clear statement of free-speech values and create opportunities to teach the campus community about free speech. Senior administrators at colleges and universities need to communicate with their communities the vital importance of freedom of expression and academic freedom for higher education.

The two scholars also suggest that campus leaders issue statements supporting controversial speakers.

“Speakers should never be excluded because of their views, but campus officials also need to explain that it is completely appropriate, and indeed desirable, for students and faculty to express disagreement with speakers they find objectionable,” they write.

Another task on the scholars’ checklist proposes that administrators create fair and neutral rules for student groups that want to host speakers and hold events:

Devise and publicize transparent and neutral procedures for approving events. Campuses typically require advance permission for use of their facilities. There is no free-speech right for groups to demand unconditional access to limited campus venues at a time of their choosing. But the procedures and the criteria for receiving such approval must be clear, stated in advance and applicable to all. Otherwise such fair limitations could be abused.

Chemerinsky and Gilman also recommend that administrators “ensure everyone’s safety” by establishing security measures and they encourage campus leaders to discipline students who interfere with free speech on campus.

“Campuses undermine free speech by not responding adequately to those who disrupt others when they are exercising their First Amendment rights,” they write.

Read the full article. 

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