When Middlebury College greeted Charles Murray, a prominent political scientist and the American Enterprise Institute’s W.H. Brady Scholar, with disruptive and violent protests, the event shook American higher education to its core. The heckler’s veto triumphed over free expression, the foundational principle of liberal education. Masked protestors injured Middlebury Professor Allison Stanger while she attempted to escort Murray off campus.
It would be easy to despair of the state of campus intolerance with the daily stream of stories about abrogations of free speech in academia. Stories like this one make newspaper headlines far too frequently.
In response, two leading scholars, famous in equal measure for their friendship and for their opposing philosophical viewpoints, decided it was time to take action. Princeton University McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence Robert P. George and Harvard Divinity School Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy Cornel West issued a joint statement through Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions: Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression. This excellent statement affirms the value of free expression and its role in promoting a liberal education.
ACTA President Michael Poliakoff, ACTA Senior Fellow Anne D. Neal, and ACTA’s Fund for Academic Renewal Executive Director Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill have joined the over 4,000 individuals from across higher education who have lent their support to Drs. West and George’s statement. To date, 56 current and former university presidents and chancellors have made a public affirmation of the value of free expression and truth seeking.
Students win when they have the opportunity to engage with a wide range of viewpoints and challenging ideas—that’s why the public is so alarmed by what’s happening on college campuses. Educators and citizens of all political and philosophical persuasions have come together to support truth seeking and open campus discourse. But more needs to be done. Let us hope that university leaders heed this call by adopting a strong statement protecting free speech and intellectual diversity at their own institutions. The Chicago Principles, outlined in the University of Chicago’s Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression, represent the leading model for colleges and universities. ACTA recognizes the adoption of such statements as a best practice in university governance. Major institutions such as the University of Chicago, Princeton, and the University of Wisconsin have already led the way.
If you would like to join Professors George and West as a public signatory to this statement, please submit your name, title, and affiliation to jmadison@Princeton.edu. All may sign.
The James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions is an ACTA Oasis of Excellence.