Yesterday, I suggested that universities have a free speech problem, even if they do not necessarily face a free speech crisis. If the problem is not addressed by universities themselves, then it will be addressed by outside actors who, even if they act with good intentions, may not act in ways that are very helpful.
If universities want to fend off outside intervention and, more importantly, be true to their own mission, they need to be proactive in nurturing a better free speech culture on their own campuses. The task begins with getting clear about the right principles in the first place. University leaders should be capable of articulating and defending the idea that the point of a university is to be a site of sharp-edged disagreements, free inquiry, and unorthodox thinking. If they want to resist the impression that elite universities have become “hedge funds with universities attached,” then they need to be willing to celebrate and defend universities as places where ideas are taken seriously and freely discussed and debated. One attraction of the University of Chicago Statement on Principles of Free Expression is that it offers a pithy articulation of these core commitments. I helped lead the effort to have the faculty at Princeton University adopt that statement in order to show solidarity for what should be a core commitment of university faculty across the country. Adopting such a clear statement of principle reaffirms and clarifies the values of a scholarly community and sends a message to both students and administrators as to what the expectations and priorities of the faculty are. If the faculty of a university cannot manage to agree on such basic principles of intellectual freedom, then that makes a statement of its own and prospective students, faculty, and donors should take notice.