In August, the AGB Board of Directors published its Statement on Governing Board Accountability for Campus Climate, Inclusion, and Civility. The statement offers a valuable discussion of the values of diversity, inclusion, and freedom of expression in higher education, and it presents recommendations and discussion questions to promote dialogue on these matters.
This statement is the result of AGB's determination to get guidance on these critical issues into the hands of boards and presidents at the start of the academic year. The timing was prescient: Just as this statement was released, the dean of students at the University of Chicago sent a letter to the incoming class of 2020 addressing the issues of campus climate and freedom of expression. The letter advises that the university's commitment to academic freedom means that "we do not support so-called 'trigger warnings,' we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces' where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own."
As with so many positions taken by higher education institutions on these topics, a counter position was asserted, in this case by the University of Chicago faculty. Their letter extols the virtue of mutual respect in the practice of academic freedom--which can be "contentious, difficult, perhaps even painful." The letter further explains that those faculty who signed it "have a variety of opinions about requests for trigger warnings and safe spaces… But let there be no mistake: such requests often touch on substantive, ongoing issues of bias, intolerance, and trauma that affect our intellectual exchanges. To start a conversation by declaring that such requests are not worth making is an affront to the basic principles of liberal education and participatory democracy."
And so, this quintessentially American conversation in higher education continues. Welcome to campus, class of 2020!