Press Releases | Freedom of Expression

Delaware Trustees Fail to Protect Students’ Free Exchange of Ideas

May 19, 2008

WASHINGTON, DC—The University of Delaware Board of Trustees’ decision today to approve a controversial Residence Life program is deeply disappointing, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni said.

“When parents send their children to college, they expect them to be educated, not indoctrinated,” said ACTA president Anne D. Neal. “And when people become trustees of public universities, they are obligated to protect students’ First Amendment rights and to spend taxpayer money well. Sadly, the UD trustees did neither today.”

At its semi-annual meeting this afternoon, the Board of Trustees voted to approve the latest iteration of a Residence Life program that, in the program’s own words, seeks to shape and change students’ “thoughts, values, beliefs, and actions.” It succeeds a similar program that—though the UD administration originally claimed it “encourage[d] free speech”—was formally shut down last year after a public uproar about its assaults upon freedom of conscience.

After becoming aware that many trustees had never even seen the full proposal, ACTA sent a copy to every member of the board. ACTA also urged the trustees, in an accompanying memo, to approve a scaled-back program without the controversial “educational” curriculum. While administrators claim the program will be optional, ACTA’s memo pointed out that “among college students—especially newly-arrived freshmen—there is tremendous peer pressure to do what others do.”

Among other things, the approved plan asks students to post answers to highly personal questions on public bulletin boards—such as for whom they are voting and how they define love; to participate in a “simulated ‘shopping’ exercise” on environmental sustainability; to bring their “favorite material possessions” to a floor meeting; and to take part in a “discovery wheel” activity.

“In a university, of all places, surely there are better ways to educate students—and to spend scarce resources—than ‘show and tell’ sessions and the like,” ACTA’s Neal said. “This ‘curriculum’ in the dormitories bears little resemblance to what most Americans remember from their college days, or to common sense. When residence life programs are developed at other institutions, I hope other trustees will act differently.”

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, national organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic quality, and accountability. Its network includes alumni and trustees from more than 600 colleges and universities across the country, including the University of Delaware. Since its founding in 1995, ACTA has counseled boards and educated the public about such issues as historical literacy, core curricula, the free exchange of ideas, accreditation, and good governance in higher education.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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