DRAFT: University of Michigan Principles on Diversity of Thought and Freedom of Expression


The University of Michigan serves the public through teaching and research. We create and advance knowledge. We prepare the next generation to participate in democracy. We fulfill our mission[1] through rigorous scholarship and scrutiny in the humanities and sciences, in the arts and engineering, in every field and every discipline. Open inquiry and spirited debate — the lifeblood of our institution — promote discovery and creativity.

We have a proud history of engaging with issues of great societal importance. Our 1988 Freedom of Speech and Artistic Expression policy, built upon the Board of Regents 1977 Freedom of Speech Guidelines, guides our institution. Our practice of confronting controversial topics is a hallmark of our culture. We uphold “the right to intellectual freedom” by practicing “firm traditions of self-criticism, by learning to respect differences of opinion and belief, and by recognizing that the progress of a society is inextricably linked to a diversity of opinions and beliefs and the freedom to express them.”[2]  When we fall short of these ideals, we vow to learn from our missteps as a community that aspires to be “leaders and best.”[3] 

As a great public university guided by the letter and spirit of the First Amendment, we enthusiastically embrace our responsibility to stimulate and support diverse ideas and viewpoints in our classrooms and labs, lecture series and symposia, studios and performance halls, and among our entire community of students, teachers, researchers, and staff. When we disagree on matters of intellectual significance, we make space for contesting perspectives.

Diversity of thought informed by different perspectives and lived experiences generates better ideas and moves us forward toward a more just and equitable society.

We affirm the freedom to exchange ideas, question assumptions, learn from those with whom we disagree, challenge views we find misguided or pernicious, and engage with the broadest range of scholarly subjects and materials. We strive to meet conflict and controversy with empathy and reason, refuting our opponents rather than refusing them a platform, and contesting their ideas instead of attacking their character.

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

We recognize that free inquiry and expression can offend. Every member of our academic community should expect to confront ideas that differ from their own, however uncomfortable those encounters may be. We commit to these Principles because they help us to create, discover, and fulfill our vital mission.

[1] Mission Statement, University of Michigan (October 9, 1992) (“The mission of the University of Michigan is to serve the people of Michigan and the world through preeminence in creating, communicating, preserving and applying knowledge, art, and academic values, and in developing leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future.”).   

[2] Hon. Thurgood Marshall, Written Excerpts from Commencement Address, University of Michigan (December 19, 1964).

[3] Louis Elbel, “The Victors” (1898).



  1. Gil Seinfeld
    on October 22, 2023 at 8:35 pm

    I think this is a good statement (no small feat given the subject matter). I wouldn’t mind seeing the ideas explored in the final paragraph developed some more–really driving home the point that the fact that certain expression causes discomfort, pain, and even very real emotional harm is not reason enough to prevent circulation of those ideas.

  2. Daniel Crane
    on October 23, 2023 at 4:27 pm

    Good start. Perhaps this is not the place for it, but it would be desirable for the University to provide guidance on administrators speaking in their official capacities. A corollary of the principle that members of the University community enjoy strong free speech rights in their individual capacities is that the University itself–including its deans and other administrators–should not speak in a way that suggests that the University is a partisan on contested ideological or political issues. When administrators communicate that the University has taken sides in the culture wars, they undermine the University’s ability to serve as a neutral meeting ground for people with diverse viewpoints.

    To be sure, the University cannot avoid speaking on contested issues when they are germane to its internal governance. For example, the University cannot avoid taking a position on controversial issues regarding its admissions or hiring policies or its curriculum. However, when it does so it can choose to communicate its positions in a way that shows respect for those in the community with differing views. And it can ensure that administrators are not speaking for the University on contested issues not directly germane to the University’s internal governance.

    In my view, inappropriate political speech by the University does more to undermine free speech than censorship. Since Michigan is a public university subject to the First Amendment, there are existing legal mechanisms to correct censorship. But when the University communicates a political orthodoxy, that has a direct effect on who chooses to join this community and how welcome they feel to speak their minds. We should have a policy that addresses this.

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