University of Minnesota Grapples With Free Speech Regulations

(Photo: Alexius Horatius, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Alexius Horatius, Creative Commons)

The top committee that represents faculty at the University of Minnesota has announced a unanimous decision to further consider a number of recommendations for the protection of free speech on campus.

Included in the recommendations is a proposal to create a university-wide office of “free-speech advocate” that would monitor investigations into speech made by university offices and officials.

The decision came after a number of incidents resulted in months-long investigations by equity and diversity officers into university professors for the use of a depiction of Mohammed to promote a panel on free speech.  Speakers at the school were shouted at by protestrrs, which included a well-known Israeli academic who had been delivering a lecture.

The University Senate is expected to discuss free speech and the Four Core Principles document, drafted by law professor Dale Carpenter, at its meeting later this week.  Concerns will be discussed that have been brought up after the document’s release.

Rob Stewart, the Student Senate’s chair, said the main concern is the document’s attempt to codify the issue of free speech.  The Student Senate took issue with the third principle in particular, which states the University does not have the power to determine who can or cannot regulate speakers based on the amount of power they hold.

Some members argued that the principle appeared to be an advocacy topic and does not discuss the issue that some people hold more power than others, writes Raj Chaduvula for The Minnesota Daily.

The Faculty Consultative Committee approved the document in March in a 7-2 vote, declaring free speech a “paramount value” of the public university and calling it more important than the creation of an equal and diverse campus climate.  It also said that  “no member of the University community has the right to prevent or disrupt expression.”

The FCC then approved an Addendum in April that discussed the Core Principles at length, as well as the reasons why it is important for the University to reaffirm its commitment to free speech.  In the same meeting, the FCC unanimously approved for further discussion a total of five recommendations that would protect speech.

The Recommendations for action by the university include “foster[ing] understanding of the meaning and value of free speech” by disseminating the basic principles and requiring “administrative and investigatory offices of the University” to “protect free speech in carrying out their duties and exercising their powers.” The FCC also urges the university to “vigorously protect free speech when serious disruption is anticipated or actually occurs” by identifying disrupters and imposing appropriate sanctions,” Carpenter wrote for The Washington Post.

The committee also suggested that a “minimum procedural protection” be put in place for faculty, students, and others who may be under investigation.

The Four Core Principles end with a reminder that while the University does not condone hateful speech, those with differing opinions must be allowed to speak freely on campus in an effort to uphold the right to speak.