Force colleges to commit to free speech

John Altman:

The University of Chicago’s Principles of Freedom of Expression ought to be standard operating procedure at every college and university. And it is time for the philanthropic community to make it their own operating procedure that there will be no money for any university without its official commitment to a comprehensive policy protecting and fostering freedom of expression.

For this reason, the Altman Charitable Foundation offered $1 million to Miami University of Ohio for its Humanities Center, conditional upon the university first adopting the Chicago Principles of Freedom of Expression. In fact, that operational rule for higher education philanthropy is now written into the Foundation’s bylaws.

The Diana Davis Spencer Foundation, a major higher education donor, has stated that it will be taking colleges’ track records on academic freedom into account for future grants. President Diana Davis Spencer has made the policy direction clear: “Colleges and universities must allow free speech on campuses and encourage students to inquire and question all sides of an issue. Otherwise, democracy is doomed.”

For those who love and support higher education – and that should be everyone – it will seem hard to padlock our wallets. Until colleges embrace basic principles of academic integrity, however, it is the way forward. Admittedly, the gifts of a few foundations cannot change the entire system. But an overdue revolution is gathering momentum.