The Volokh Conspiracy

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Campus Free Speech

Principles for a Campus Culture of Free Inquiry

A new statement worth reading for those concerned with academia


A group of scholars interested in free inquiry and the future of higher education met in Princeton last spring and began a conversation about what principles ought to guide a well-functioning scholarly institution dedicated to the mission of the preservation and advancement of knowledge. With radical proposals for higher education reform very much in the air, especially on the political right, it was hoped that it would be helpful to have a statement clarifying the objectives that any reform measure should be seeking to advance.

Don Downs, the Alexander Meiklejohn Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a long-time advocate of academic freedom and campus free speech, did the heavy lifting of drafting a statement and working to build a consensus. I was happy to join the final statement.

From the statement:

The American university is a historic achievement for many reasons, not least of which is that it provides a haven for free inquiry and the pursuit of truth. Its unique culture has made it a world leader in advancing the frontiers of practical and theoretical knowledge. The habits of mind required for this advancement of knowledge sustain our republic by educating citizens in the liberality and intellectual independence necessary to participate in self-government in a pluralistic society.

To do their work well, universities need a protected sphere of operation in which free speech and academic freedom flourish. Scholarship and teaching cannot achieve their full potential when constrained—externally or internally—by political, ideological, or economic agendas that impede or displace the disinterested process of pursuing truth and advancing knowledge.

You can read the whole thing here.