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On This Date in Campus Freedom: University of Texas System Adopts The Chicago Statement Affirming Free Speech

November 17, 2023 by ACTA

The University of Texas (UT) System is one of the nation’s largest university systems, boasting eight campuses and 240,000 full-time students. On November 17, 2022, the UT regents approved the University of Texas Commitment to Freedom of Speech and Expression. The statement, which was modeled on the Chicago Principles on Freedom of Expression, “guarantees all members of the UT System the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.” It continues, “The UT System and the UT institution fully respect and support the freedom of all members of the UT System community ‘to discuss any problem that presents itself.’” 
System Board Chairman Kevin Eltife said the adoption of the statement “underscores The University of Texas System’s long-standing commitment to freedom of speech and expression on our campuses in a manner that promotes open inquiry, provides transparency and upholds the rule of law. We will always value and embrace the debate of competing ideas and principles.”

The system’s decision followed a 2018 lawsuit brought by Speech First against UT–Austin’s Campus Climate Response Team. The lawsuit claimed that the bias response team and several other campus policies violated students’ constitutionally protected free speech rights. After years of litigation, the parties agreed to a settlement, and the UT–Austin student government petitioned the UT System to adopt the Chicago Principles.

In adopting the Commitment to Freedom of Speech and Expression, the UT System sent a clear message to universities across the state and nation that the free expression of ideas is fundamental to the mission of higher education. But this is just a first step. UT leadership must ensure that the spirit of the statement is rigorously promoted in classrooms, lecture halls, and dormitories so that students and faculty are free to encounter challenging ideas and debate current issues in a spirit of openness and respect, unafraid of censure or sanction.


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