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BPC Launches New Academic Leaders Task Force on Campus Free Expression

Washington, DC – Colleges and universities are searching for ways to craft meaningful free expression strategies that suit a changing higher education landscape while staying true to their institution’s unique mission and their commitments to diversity and inclusion. But those who wish to create such an approach lack a reliable roadmap for doing so.

To address this problem, the Bipartisan Policy Center is launching the Academic Leaders Task Force on Campus Free Expression to identify practices, programs, and policies that foster robust campus cultures.

The task force will be co-chaired by former Govs. Chris Gregoire (D-WA) and Jim Douglas (R-VT), and its members include a diverse group of university presidents, professors, administrators, and civic leaders with distinguished records of creating strategies to strengthen open exchange and tolerance at a wide range of higher education institutions.

“Higher education institutions have a special role in America’s democracy, preparing the next generation for civic leadership and principled debate,” said BPC President Jason Grumet. “Our democracy cannot succeed if we accept the false premise that free expression is somehow at odds with cultural diversity, inclusion, and individual wellbeing.”

But today, surveys have found that that many students—and even faculty—self-censor, and controversies over faculty research and extramural statements have created uncertainty about the boundaries of academic freedom. Consequently, the public, parents, and lawmakers are losing confidence in higher education institutions. In the last five years, 20 states have adopted campus free expression legislation and President Donald Trump issued an executive order on campus free expression in 2019.

“Government cannot deliver what should be a democratic core value of open exchange and free expression cultures on the nation’s campuses,” said Gregoire. “Each campus community is unique, and successfully building trust between the faculty, students, and an administration requires strategies and tactics tailored to their school.”

University leaders are also grappling with how to maintain a culture that values frank, open, and respectful dialogue, when politically charged divisiveness has become the norm.

“As a governor, I knew well how important it is to find practical compromise across principled disagreement,” said Douglas. “Faculty and campus leadership can play an essential role in helping our country transcend this polarized moment by introducing students to many strands in social and political thought and a wide range of viewpoints on contemporary issues, so that students graduate as independent thinkers, able to work constructively with those with differing views.”

The task force will look at issues including:

  • The adoption of a free expression statement that connects the value of free expression to the school’s history and mission.
  • Approaches that campus presidents and their leadership teams can follow to ensure wide campus input and buy-in from faculty, students, staff, and other campus constituencies to these values.
  • Procedures that ensure that free expression informs and harmonizes with other policies, including freshman orientation materials, student handbooks, faculty handbooks, IT policies, tabling policies, harassment policies, etc.
  • Guidelines for college presidents and their leadership teams about when it is appropriate for leadership to comment on contemporary political and social issues and expressing the value of institutional neutrality on other issues.

Members of The Academic Leaders Task Force on Campus Free Expression:

  • Chris Gregoire (co-chair), CEO, Challenge Seattle; former governor of Washington
  • Jim Douglas (co-chair), executive in residence, Middlebury College; former governor of Vermont
  • Ronald A. Crutcher, president, University of Richmond
  • Daniel Cullen, professor of political science, Rhodes College
  • Ross Irwin, COO, BridgeUSA
  • William A. Keyes IV, president, Institute for Responsible Citizenship
  • Walter M. Kimbrough, president, Dillard University
  • Linda A. Livingstone, president, Baylor University
  • Wallace Loh, immediate past president, University of Maryland
  • John A. Nunes, president, Concordia College-New York
  • Carol A. Sumner, vice president of diversity, equity, & inclusion and chief diversity officer, Texas Tech University
  • Lori S. White, president, DePauw University

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