As the new academic year gets underway, campuses are bracing for a renewal of conflict and controversy over freedom of speech. Key aspects of each new flashpoint will vary, depending as they inevitably will on the particular nature of the episode and the individual campus context within which it occurs. Chief among the many variables will be the response of the college’s or university’s leadership. Accordingly, trustees have a crucial role, working proactively with their president and other institutional leaders to nurture and support a campus culture that unequivocally recognizes freedom of speech as central to the academic enterprise and steadfastly promotes inclusion and civility.
Yet, as issues of freedom of speech play out on college and university campuses around the country, they are often complex and volatile. Moreover, the speed and omnipresence of social media and the relentless spotlight of national press coverage can combine to fuel tensions and require an immediate reaction from campus leaders. These conditions do not lend themselves to careful deliberation and reasoned balancing of competing principles, interests, and rights.
To help governing boards and institutional leaders navigate the difficult issues related to freedom of speech on campus, AGB has just issued a set of guidelines that address six key areas of focus:
- matters about which governing boards should be informed
- the alignment of freedom of speech and academic freedom
- the need for policies clarifying the relation between free speech rights and institutional mission
- the role of the board in modeling civil dialogue
- communication between students and institutional leaders
- board support for the president
Freedom of Speech on Campus: Guidelines for Governing Boards and Institutional Leaders was developed in consultation with distinguished experts on the legal, educational, and governance aspects of freedom of speech. This timely resource also includes context-setting discussion and a list of practical questions for boards and presidents to consider together.