61% of Stanford students surveyed by FIRE report censoring themselves on campus.
Stanford University is having a hard time protecting the freedom to express ideas and explore different ways of thinking on campus. A group of administrators recently issued a controversial “Elimination of Harmful Language Guide,” stoking fears that speech and ideas could be subject to censorship. It also created an anonymous online system that invites people to report others who say things they find offensive. In recent years, faculty members have been denounced for expressing unpopular views, and the university’s Constitutional Council initially denied the Stanford College Republicans’ funding request to host a former vice president. Only after public backlash did it reverse its decision.
Stanford can become a place where people share their ideas freely if the university meets ACTA’s Gold Standard for Freedom of ExpressionTM. Stanford’s leaders should start by adopting three policies developed at the University of Chicago:
1. The Chicago Principles on Freedom of Expression, which state that everyone at a university should have the freedom to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.
2. The Kalven Report, which holds that a university must not take sides on social and political issues because doing so chills the free expression of individuals on campus.
3. The Shils Report, which explains that universities should hire and promote the best people for teaching and research regardless of their political views.
By adopting these wise policies—and by ending efforts to encourage anonymous reporting of others for expressing different points of view—Stanford would improve education for its students and ensure its continuing reputation as a leader in open scientific inquiry and technological innovation.
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“The mission of the university is the pursuit of truth and the advancement and dissemination of knowledge. A robust culture of free speech and academic freedom is essential to that mission: Intellectual progress often threatens the status quo and is resisted. Bad ideas are weeded out only by unfettered critical analysis.”
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