Last week, Mizzou took several important steps in ensuring that all students on campus, regardless of viewpoint, will have the freedom to express their beliefs openly. As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) explains, the university released a policy statement recognizing the free speech rights of students and also adopted new policies around protests and demonstrations that clearly explain the rights of students to congregate and speak their minds in public spaces.
One paragraph in particular stands out:
“Thus, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. Individual members of the University community, not the University as an institution, should make their own moral judgments about the content of constitutionally protected speech, and should express these judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.”
This is exactly right. The mission of the University should be to empower students with the skills and knowledge that they need to debate and disprove things that they believe are false, not to tell them it’s OK to run and hide from them.
As FIRE points out, Mizzou’s new free speech policy is based upon the Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression, a document published several years ago at the University of Chicago that has become the gold standard for ensuring that students and faculty have the maximum freedom to discuss and debate topics of importance.
Here at the Show-Me Institute, we have been urging the university to adopt such speech protections for some time now. In a report I co-authored with Michael Highsmith, “Moving Mizzou Forward: Reform Ideas from Around the Nation” we wrote:
“Freedom of speech and debate is at risk and can be protected. It seems that not a week of the school year goes by without some story emerging about efforts by a student council, residence hall, professor, or school administrator to stifle the speech of students. If we do not impress upon our students the importance of free speech and defend it vigorously, we risk creating a citizenry that does not value one of the foundational values upon which our nation was built. Luckily, institutions like the University of Chicago offer a great blueprint for fostering debate and protecting speech. Mizzou would be wise to study that blueprint carefully.”
Mizzou has clearly done this. Good for them.