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October 14, 2014

Stone to update free speech policy

The committee established last month by President Robert Zimmer to review the University’s free speech policy was created due to free speech-related incidents at other universities around the country, committee head Geoffrey Stone said. The committee will send its recommendations to the Faculty Council by the end of 2014.

According to a University-wide e-mail from Zimmer on September 25, the committee will “draft a statement reflecting the University’s commitment to and tolerance of multiple forms of free expression.”

The committee began meeting last month and will release its statement on free speech on January 1, 2015, after which the statement will head to the Faculty Council for a vote during winter quarter. Zimmer selected Stone, along with the other committee members, for their diverse fields of study, their well-respected status in the University, and for their judgment, which, according to Stone, Zimmer “thought well of.”

Stone said that Zimmer’s decision to form an updated statement on the University’s free speech policy was unrelated to anything specific that occurred at the University.

“I think what triggered it was more the fact that issues have arisen in universities across the nation in the last couple of years, and we didn’t have a formal statement on policy on these issues,” he said. “The president thought it would be useful to have one, but it was not triggered by anything in particular at Chicago."

Stone speculated that cancellations of convocation speakers and reactions to student protests at other universities might have been the cause for the committee.

“My guess is Zimmer talked with other university presidents and they were wrestling with some of these questions, and he realized it would be a good thing for the University to think about this and come up with general principles that would help guide discussion when such issues arise in the future,” Stone said.

The University’s neutrality policy, the Kalven Report, sets a precedent for the current committee’s work. The Kalven Report was produced in the 1960s by a similar committee headed by Law Professor Harry Kalven, Jr. as a response to student protests at the University and across the country. It proclaims an official University policy of neutrality on social and political issues.

Stone indicated the committee would draw from sources both inside and outside the University when drafting the statement, which includes both statements from other universities and input from students.

Additionally, in crafting their statement, the committee will incorporate feedback from prior controversies concerning free speech, such as Dan Savage’s controversial statements at an IOP event last June.

The committee includes representatives from a variety of departments and divisions, including Booth School professor Marianne Bertrand and Astronomy and Astrophysics professor Angela Olinto.

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