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Free Speech on Campus: A Better Way of Looking at It

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Harper Library at the University of Chicago.

In 2014, the University of Chicago, where I teach, released what would come to be known as the Chicago Principles, a set of very strong positions on free expression that stirred national attention and were quickly adopted by many institutions. The principles also sparked a whirlwind of free-speech debates right here on campus, and my research into the history of censorship drew me to the center of them. After many long nights of watching brilliant, passionate students, faculty, and administrators who seemed like they were talking past each other, I realized something that I now see everywhere in the nationwide debate over campus free speech. A lot of apparent disagreement derives from treating as a single issue two issues that it’s better to consider separately: the objects of study in one case, and the habitat where study takes place in the other.

Protecting objects of study means ensuring that we continue to ask uncomfortable questions alongside the comfortable ones, that scholars remain free to pursue truths unwelcome to power, that I and my historian colleagues can offer courses on hate groups and genocides as well as on artists and inventors, and that I can ask my students to read potentially upsetting texts like The Merchant of Venice. In contrast, protecting the learning environment involves policies that affect the daily lived experience of people moving through a campus, focusing primarily on such things as posters, artworks, or facilities.

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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !