University of Chicago: An Example for Mizzou on Free Speech
Over the past few weeks, the University of Missouri has been turned upside down by protests that, so far, have cost the jobs of the university system President and the school's Chancellor. The protests have also brought to light a lot of troubling behavior by university employees against university students. Between Mizzou staff assaulting students' First Amendment rights and a Mizzou professor literally calling in "muscle" to physically remove a student reporter from a public space, something is rotten in Columbia. It's one thing to have a liberal campus culture, which has long been the case in Columbia. It's another thing entirely to have a culture so liberal that it becomes illiberal.
The thin silver lining here is that Mizzou's broken campus culture—not only among students, but among faculty as well—has finally been laid bare, providing the opportunity for policymakers and administrators to fix it.
So, where does Mizzou go from here? One important step would be to reestablish the University's bona fides as an institution that believes in free speech for everyone, not just those who support the politics of the university faculty. On point, L. Gordon Crovitz wrote in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about a strong, student-supporting free speech policy that the University of Chicago adopted earlier this year. The policy has already been adopted at Purdue and Princeton, and which is now being pushed nationwide by FIRE, a student advocacy group.
You can find the University of Chicago's full report here, but I'd like to pull out two important paragraphs that could have written about Mizzou and its handling of free speech issues. (Emphases mine)
As a corollary to the University’s commitment to protect and promote free expression, members of the University community must also act in conformity with the principle of free expression. Although 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.
As Robert M. Hutchins observed, without a vibrant commitment to free and open inquiry, a university ceases to be a university. The University of Chicago’s longstanding commitment to this principle lies at the very core of our University’s greatness. That is our inheritance, and it is our promise to the future.
A lot needs to change at Mizzou in the coming months. Administrators should start by unequivocally rejecting the university’s recent Orwellian nonsense on speech matters and commit to the free speech principles on which this country was founded, and possibly by adopting the University of Chicago policy construction. As the University of Chicago statement suggests, open inquiry and speech are the inheritance of all universities. It is up to policymakers and administrators to ensure that this inheritance is not wasted at Mizzou.