ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

Building a Culture of Free Expression on the American College Campus

Challenges & Solutions

April 2018 by Joyce Lee Malcolm

Higher education continues to grapple with issues surrounding free expression within the academy—and the actions that protect or degrade it. From colleges and universities that adopt the Chicago Principles for freedom of expression, to those that enforce “safe spaces” and speech codes on campus, there is a tug of war over the safeguarding of viewpoint diversity and the open exchange of ideas. In this refreshing and instructive essay, Professor Joyce Lee Malcolm highlights the pivotal historical and contemporary events surrounding free speech, and outlines best practices necessary to ensure a campus culture dedicated to freedom of opinion and speech.


SELECTED FINDINGS

INTRODUCTION:

Over its 23-year history, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has worked to educate leaders in higher education to uphold the highest standards of academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability. We now face one of the most serious challenges in memory to the free exchange of ideas essential for liberal education. 

For the last four decades, free speech on campus has suffered from the disinvitations of speakers, violent protests, classroom disruptions, “safe spaces,” and speech codes. In the past several years, the problem has grown significantly more severe. How do these challenges to free speech affect the core value of education: the unfettered pursuit of truth? Can the robust discussion and lively discourse essential for liberal education survive the chilly—sometimes hostile—treatment given to opinions that question campus orthodoxies? What effect do these insults have on what former University of Chicago President Hanna Holborn Gray calls the “environment of the greatest freedom,” that should, by right, be the college campus? 

We have commissioned this essay to examine the particular threats to free expression and the larger problems they portend, but its most important focus is on the way forward. The essay is divided into four sections. It begins with an examination of our founding principles of free speech and education, then turns to the campus crisis and its particular manifestations in “safe spaces,” speech codes, and the silencing of speakers who challenge popular opinions. Next, the essay considers approaches to safeguard freedom of expression, from Yale’s C. Vann Woodward Committee Report through current times; and finally, offers recommendations based on best practices to maintain freedom of opinion and speech. 

This text aims to provide sound, principled, and practical ways to approach these difficult moments in education. In the spirit of Benjamin Franklin, we invite you to join with us in keeping our republican spirit alive and well. 

Press

How colleges can manage ‘flashpoints’ of unrest on campus

Education Dive
September 26, 2018 by Hallie Busta |

Dive Brief:

  • College campuses are more diverse, global and polarized than ever — and everyone is on social media, said Barbee Oakes, chief diversity officer at the… Continue Reading >>

No consensus on how to handle free speech on campuses

Education Dive
June 19, 2018 by James Paterson |

Dive Brief:

  • A lawsuit supported by the U.S. Justice Department against the University of Michigan has drawn fire from the institution, which disputes claims that its “bias… Continue Reading >>

To Punish Disrupters, Or Not? New Recommendations To Restore Free Speech On Campus

Forbes
May 31, 2018 by Tom Lindsay |

Just how bad is the state of free speech and debate on America’s campuses? In March 2018, Gallup/Knight looked to answer this question through conducting a survey of more than 3,000… Continue Reading >>