WASHINGTON, DC—Brandeis University has affirmed what it calls the “Principles of Free Speech and Free Expression,” laying the groundwork for the free exchange of ideas that is vital to providing academically rigorous higher education.
ACTA welcomes these initial steps committing the institution to provide an environment for intellectual diversity. Now the University has an opportunity to remedy its poor track record on this issue. In November 2017, Brandeis canceled an upcoming play about the comedian Lenny Bruce—ironically an early champion of free expression—after students and faculty complained about its content. In 2014, the institution reversed plans to present Ayaan Hirsi Ali with an honorary degree, after some of her controversial comments on Islam elicited scrutiny from the campus community and the public.
It is always a welcome development when an institution of higher learning publicly embraces the Chicago Principles or other policies that protect freedom of expression. Ultimately, such gestures are only credible when they are followed by concrete steps by the institution’s leadership, administrators, faculty, and students to create an arena for vibrant discussion and debate. Such measures will ensure that students are taught to listen respectfully to different viewpoints and debate them as necessary—instead of censoring uncomfortable views.