In response to the Berkeley riot incident in 2017, FIRE issued this statement:
No university may be considered “safe” if speakers voicing unpopular ideas on its campus incur a substantial risk of being physically attacked. A university where people or viewpoints are likely to be opposed with fists rather than argumentation is unworthy of the name. Granting those willing to use violence the power to determine who may speak on campus is an abdication of UC Berkeley’s moral and legal responsibilities under the First Amendment.
Strong-arming one’s belief onto others is just a form of mob fascism—no matter what side of a political spectrum you are coming from.
If the Chicago Principles support allowing any invited speaker, as the statement does, then great. We must value our wonderful educational space, framed by laws and policies on one side and supported by documents like the Chicago Principles on the other. We need students to feel free to offer any viewpoint and likewise to offer any challenge, both within the context of our curriculum and on campus, to open up a discourse, and to learn from the engagement.
Let’s underscore that point at the beginning: the Chicago principles envision and protect both controversial viewpoints and protests against those viewpoints, with the proviso that protesters “may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.”
How Can I Bring the Chicago Statement to My Campus?
Any statement or policy that supports students’ freedom of speech rights is welcomed. Below is an excerpt from the Chicago Statement as a reference if there is ever a question or push-back about allowing a controversial speaker on campus because someone finds some topic of inquiry distasteful.
“Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn . . . . [I]t is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.”
The “Chicago Statement” refers to the free speech policy statement produced by the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago. In July of 2014, University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Eric D. Isaacs tasked the Committee with “articulating the University’s overarching commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation among all members of the University’s community.” The Committee, which was chaired by esteemed University of Chicago Law School professor Geoffrey Stone, released the report in January of 2015.
Here are several tips for ensuring that your university will be the next institution to stand in solidarity with the Chicago Statement’s principles:
• Work to pass a student government resolution calling on the university to adopt its own version of the Chicago Statement.
• Reach out to faculty members and work with faculty governing bodies on campus.
• Build a broad coalition of students and groups, particularly across the ideological spectrum, to support the Chicago Statement and raise awareness on campus.
• Publish articles and op-eds in student newspapers and other outlets.
• Host events on campus, such as debates, speakers, and panels to discuss the principles supported by the Chicago Statement.
• Communicate and collaborate with members of your university’s administration.
• Host a petition drive, asking students to pledge their support for the Chicago Statement’s principles in a petition that will go to the administration.
• Work with other freedom of speech groups like the SAPIENT Being.