Faculty commend students for stand on free speech

The faculty members of the Department of Literature and Language wish to express their support for the efforts of a coalition of student organizations who seek changes in the proposed Free Expression policy. The ability of those affected by any proposed policy to play a meaningful role in the drafting and enactment of such a policy defines the democratic process. We also urge the administration and Board of Regents to think less in terms of regulating speech and more in terms of creating a document that affirms the importance of this essential civil liberty.

We further commend the actions of the Board of Regents in heeding the concerns of the student organizations and tabling the proposal pending further revision and clarification. We also praise the administration’s recent efforts to reach out to concerned students by calling a public meeting to address the proposal; this meeting proved productive in allowing student voices to be considered more fully.

As scholars, teachers and university citizens in the fields of literature, language, rhetoric and creative expression, we share a deep and profound belief in the importance and centrality of free speech in a just and democratic society, a belief enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and engraved on the exterior walls outside Steely Library. We therefore also urge the university administration and the Board to use this moment as an opportunity not just to revise the policy but also to revisit the question of why the university feels it needs such a detailed policy at this time, and especially to define any policy primarily in terms of likely educational outcomes, such as what we hope students will learn about the place of free speech in the academic community and a democratic society as the result of this policy.

We echo the concerns voiced by students at the public meeting that any regulatory policy, no matter how carefully written or well-intentioned, may have the effect of discouraging speech on campus, of suggesting that the expression of diverse points of view and opinions is something to be tolerated at best but not central to the academic mission of the university or the operation of a democratic society, an attitude we feel certain is not shared by anyone in the administration or on the Board.

We suggest that the policy reflect these concerns voiced at the public meeting. We also suggest that the policy focus on an opening statement affirming the importance of speech on the campus as fundamental to education in a democratic society and as a core value of the university. We would draw the university’s attention to the statement from “Policies Guaranteeing the Right of Expression of Students” at Miami University (Ohio):

“The University believes that the right of expression is as necessary as the right of inquiry and that both must be preserved as essential to the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge and truth. Consequently, students, individually and collectively, may express their views through the normal faculty, administrative, and student channels of communication. Students also may express their views by demonstrating peacefully for concepts they wish to make known, and the University will make every reasonable effort to protect that right.”

We especially recommend that the university focus on the positive assertion of the right to free expression. We believe that the ultimate goal of any statement concerning speech on campus should be to invite and encourage students, faculty and staff to exercise their free speech rights at NKU, and that although the university must likewise assert its responsibility to maintain a safe environment for academic study, the tone of any policy or statement should be positive and affirmative.

The faculty of the Department of Literature and Language