University adopts statement on diversity of thought, freedom of speech

Topics:

The University of Michigan has adopted a statement of principles on diversity of thought and free speech that is “guided by the letter and spirit of the First Amendment” and remains “entirely consistent with our commitment to nurturing a diverse, equitable and inclusive community.”

The Board of Regents voted Jan. 16 to approve the “Principles on Diversity of Thought and Freedom of Expression” to make it clear that “as a great public university … we enthusiastically embrace our responsibility to stimulate and support diverse ideas and model constructive engagement with different viewpoints.”

President Santa J. Ono introduced the measure, which was first made public as a draft in October.

“Open inquiry and spirited debate are critical for promoting discovery and creativity, for creating and advancing knowledge, and for preparing our students to be informed and actively engaged in our democracy,” he said.

“At this time of great division, it is more important than ever that we come together in a shared commitment to pluralism, to mutual respect and to freedom of speech and diversity of thought at this great public university.”

Regent Mark J. Bernstein described the new principles as “the north star of our university that sits next to our mission statement.”

“We are a public university with a long and proud history of robust engagement on issues of great societal consequence,” Bernstein said. “Every member of our academic community should expect to confront ideas that differ from their own, however uncomfortable these encounters may be. This can only occur when diversity of viewpoints exists and freedom of expression flourishes.”

Board of Regents Chair Sarah Hubbard described the principles as a “first step” toward encouraging balanced debate at U-M. “Now we need to invite diverse thought leaders to our campus in order to fulfill the promise of this policy,” she said.

Regent Ron Weiser cited portions of the principles that allow for protestors to disagree but not disrupt presentations.

“It’s really important that we realize that the university is about talking to each other and understanding there’s going to be differences of opinion and viewpoints on many, many subjects,” he said.

The university sought comments on the draft statement and those comments helped to inform the final document. Timothy G. Lynch, vice president and general counsel, shepherded the process of developing and refining the statement. 

Lynch expressed his deep gratitude to the faculty committee that worked on various drafts of the principles.

“Our committee discussions quickly coalesced on important themes and issues. Our discussions also reflected differing perspectives that made the final product that much better,” said Lynch, who also thanked the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs’ General Counsel Advisory Committee for its important advice over the course of multiple meetings.

The faculty committee included:

  • Michelle Adams, Henry M. Butzel Professor of Law and professor of law, Law School.
  • Kristina Daugirdas, Francis A. Allen Collegiate Professor of Law and professor of law, Law School.
  • Don Herzog, Edson R. Sunderland Professor of Law and professor of law, Law School; and professor of political science, LSA.
  • Gabe Mendlow, professor of law, Law School; and professor of philosophy, LSA.
  • Chandra Sripada, Theophile Raphael Research Professor of Clinical Neurosciences and professor of psychiatry, Medical School; and professor of philosophy, LSA

Lynch said the now-adopted principles expand upon U-M’s commitment to freedom of speech as articulated in its longstanding policy adopted in 1988, Standard Practice Guide 601.01, which remains in effect. 

Now Lynch will assemble a panel to recommend ways to put the principles into practice across the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses, and to continuously engage and educate the ever-changing community about what it means to “meet conflict and controversy with understanding and reason, refuting our opponents rather than revoking invitations or refusing them a platform, and contesting ideas instead of attacking their character.” 

“These values are particularly important during times of great conflict,” he said. “The university has articulated where it wants our community to be, and the decision today by the board is a tremendously important step.”

Regent Denise Ilitch expressed her appreciation for the community input from faculty, staff, students and alumni that helped shape the final principles.

“At the University of Michigan, we have a rich tradition of intellectual rigor and innovation. Free speech on campus is really a value of ours,” Ilitch said. “It’s our legacy, and it allows for a strong exchange of ideas and perspectives that drive academic and personal growth. Free speech is at our core.”

Regent Jordan B. Acker encouraged members of the university community to embrace the new principles. “It’s incumbent on all of us as leaders … to not just have the affirmative right to allow speech that differs from your own, but to encourage it, and to make sure that we continue to allow it,” he said.

The final phase of this process will include the appointment of a second committee — made up of faculty members, students and staff — charged with examining the extent to which the university community is living up to the principles. This group also will make specific recommendations on what the university can and should be doing better. The goal is to make further adjustments before the start of the next academic year in August 2024.

The statement recognizes that, at times, “free inquiry and expression can offend,” and makes it clear all ideas are not equal and there are limits to free speech.

“Not all ideas are of equal value. That is precisely why they must be subject to intense scrutiny and thoughtful debate,” the statement said. “Our deep commitment to free expression does not extend to speech or conduct that violates the law or university policy, including targeted speech that constitutes bullying, defamation, destruction of property, discrimination, harassment, violence, or threats.”

Tags:

Comments

  1. Bryan Shaw
    on January 16, 2024 at 5:05 pm

    There better be a way to protect students in minority backgrounds. It does sound like the board of regents freaked out after Harvard’s president resigned when she was testifying in congress. This is sad to see; our board of regents do not represent us students and faculty at all, like schlissy M was.

  2. Paul Kileny
    on January 16, 2024 at 8:33 pm

    “ challenging views we may find misguided or pernicious” : does this include/cover expressions of antisemitism in different forms , such as protesting in favor of annihilating the State of Israel ? Or, to quote Claudine Gay, “ it depends on context”. Hopefully at Michigan it is not context dependent.

  3. Myles Zhang
    on January 17, 2024 at 9:48 am

    This statement would be nice if the university and its regents were not hypocrites.

    If not for pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union, I doubt the university would have even published this statement on “free speech.”

    To quote from the ACLU’s statement, the University of Michigan is suppressing freedom of thought, arresting student activists, pressing the Washtenaw County Prosecutor to prosecute some 40 student activists, and cancelling a student-led mass democratic vote.

    “The university canceled student elections on resolutions related to Palestine and Israel, restricted or shut down student email listservs on which students were discussing the international crisis, removed posters expressing support for Palestinians from graduate students’ office windows, and responded with aggressive policing and punitive discipline to a campus protest and sit-in.”

    “Our concern is deepened by the fact that the university’s actions take place in the context of what many have described as a rising nationwide McCarthyite wave of retaliation against speech related to Palestine and Israel.”

    You can read the ACLU’s statement here:
    https://www.aclumich.org/en/press-releases/aclu-sends-letter-signaling-concern-over-university-michigans-stifling-student-speech

  4. Christopher Godwin
    on January 17, 2024 at 11:51 am

    I think that this is a very good first step and long overdue, however, it is still missing an important component in that it does not include all of the stakeholders. The University of Michigan is the flagship public university in our state, yet the advisory boards, committees, etc. to date have only included active members of the university community; the general public is still left out. Where are the voices of alumni, retirees, and others who are not currently or in the past directly affiliated with the university? Us Michiganders outside of the U of M community have a stake in this too. Yes, the Regents, who are elected representatives, are involved, but only in a high-level way that usually only comes into play at the end of the process to give an up or down vote long after all of the details and decision-making has been hashed-out. To be truly inclusive and diverse, you need to broaden the scope of the voices allowed to participate in the conversations in a meaningful and substantive way at the committee level, when the detailed discussions, negotiations, and decisions are being made. To do otherwise only undermines the legitimacy of the process.

  5. Eric Chandler
    on January 17, 2024 at 12:41 pm

    I didn’t read the post but did you know that microwavable popcorn bags have small holes in the bottom of them that allow you to “drain” the unpopped popcorn kernels before opening the popcorn bag?

  6. Jim Pyke
    on January 17, 2024 at 3:32 pm

    The linked PDF of the document marked as “Approved by the Regents
    January 16, 2024” cannot be read by my screen reader. This strikes me as irritatingly ableist.

    • University Record
      on January 18, 2024 at 9:52 am

      Thanks for bringing this to our attention. We’ve replaced the original PDF of the statement with a version that should be more accessible to screen readers.

  7. Jim Pyke
    on January 17, 2024 at 3:58 pm

    These new guidelines, such as they are, ring a bit hollow to me leaving out as they do any reference to the “freedom” that many imagine they deserve when giving voice to statements that are vigorously – and demonstrably – counterfactual. At an institution of higher learning we need to do better than to create an opening for people who would like nothing more than to use the U’s good reputation to lend credibility to the garbage “alternative facts” some spew to fuel the desire of many (and I do, sadly, mean *many*) US citizens for bringing a neo-fascist regime to power in this country.

  8. Steve Ghannam
    on January 18, 2024 at 3:01 pm

    I certainly hope the University does not adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism which will try to invalidate and condemn any criticism of Israeli atrocities against Palestinians. Advocating for the end of Zionism is akin to advocating for the end of Apartheid. Eventually the world decided that Apartheid doesn’t have a right to exist in South Africa. But South Africa does have a right to exist with equality for ALL its citizens, not just some. I hope this kind of debate is now protected by the University’s new free speech guidelines.

  9. Ben Weinberger
    on February 6, 2024 at 3:31 am

    Great move by the university. Unfortunately, almost immediately the antisemitic comments from people such as STEVE GHANNAM are posted.

  10. Steve Ghannam
    on February 20, 2024 at 8:44 pm

    Thanks for proving my point BEN WEINBERGER by offering a knee jerk accusation. Your comment shows you’ve not read any credible opposition to your viewpoint. Zionism is not a religion, nor a race, nor an ethnicity. It is a political ideology that some people support, and most do not. But I, too, support U of M’s new free speech policy and welcome healthy and sometimes difficult debate on any topic, including comments like yours. Even as a student activist back in the day, I opposed shutting down any debate, speaker or event. I regarded them all as educational opportunities for those in attendance. The antidote for “bad” speech is more speech, not less. If you don’t like the argument you’re hearing, have a better one.

Leave a comment

Please read our comment guidelines.