Open Academic Inquiry and Vigorous Debate Are Core Values of Higher Education, Organizations Write
March 07, 2022

A number of state legislatures have passed or are considering bills limiting or banning outright the teaching of concepts that elected officials regard as divisive, particularly the often-misrepresented critical race theory. 

Although the focus has mainly been at the K-12 level, higher education is likely to be targeted as the midterm elections approach. PEN America reports that while only three states—Idaho, Iowa, and Oklahoma—passed “educational gag order” legislation specifically aimed at higher education in 2021, it is now tracking over 100 gag order bills that could impact public colleges and universities. 

In response to the growing movement, ACE and more than 90 other higher education groups released a statement March 3 on the importance of preserving free and open academic inquiry and debate on campus. 

The full statement is posted below:

Colleges and universities exist to examine complex issues, challenges, and ideas, and to provide a forum in which issues and opinions can be explored and openly debated. In our intensely politicized and divided country, with social media and societal silos coarsening already heated conversations, this can be extraordinarily challenging. Yet, fostering a rigorous and civil exchange of ideas has never been more important. To best serve American society, higher education institutions are committed to transparent intellectual inquiry and academic excellence, free speech, and civil discourse. It is incumbent on our governmental institutions to share and support this commitment. 

Efforts to suppress inquiry, curb discussion, and limit what can be studied violate the basic principles of free speech and an open exchange of ideas, and undermine the very purpose of higher education. Nonetheless, some elected officials have proposed measures foreclosing evaluation of complex and challenging ideas. 

The undersigned higher education associations and organizations—representing two- and four-year, public and private colleges and universities—believe this development threatens our civic health and the ability of the United States to compete globally. If American higher education is to continue to support our economy and national security as we always have done, an unshakable commitment to robust intellectual inquiry and engagement is required. 

Controversial and contentious topics deserve a place in the curriculum, but no matter how vigorous the classroom discussion, it should be respectful. Some campus speech is unacceptable, such as speech that violates the law, defames individuals, or threatens violence. Outside a few narrow exceptions, proposals to ban speech based on the idea expressed are not only constitutionally suspect but fundamentally at odds with the values of a free and open society. 

All members of the campus community must be able to speak their minds freely, even if some hold opinions that others find objectionable, factually unsupportable, or abhorrent. The answer to speech with which one disagrees is more speech, not enforced silence. Open academic inquiry and vigorous debate are core values of higher education, and America generally, and we must never waver in our commitment to these vital principles. 

  • American Council on Education
  • Achieving the Dream
  • ACPA-College Student Educators International
  • American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare
  • American Association of Colleges and Universities
  • American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
  • American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers 
  • American Association of Community Colleges
  • American Association of Directors of Psychiatry Residency Training 
  • American Association of Physics Teachers
  • American Association of State Colleges and Universities
  • American Association of University Professors
  • American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges
  • American Dental Education Association
  • American Indian Higher Education Consortium
  • American Mathematical Society
  • American Psychological Association
  • American Society of Biomechanics
  • Asociación de Colegios y Universidades Privadas de Puerto Rico (ACUP) [The Association of Private Colleges and Universities of Puerto Rico]
  • Association for Student Conduct Administration (ASCA)
  • Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE)
  • Association for Women in Mathematics
  • Association of American Medical Colleges
  • Association of American Universities
  • Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities
  • Association of College and University Housing Officers-International 
  • Association of College Unions International
  • Association of Community College Trustees
  • Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges
  • Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU) 
  • Association of Independent Colleges & Universities in Massachusetts 
  • Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania 
  • Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Rhode Island 
  • Association of Independent Colleges of Arts & Design
  • Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities
  • Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities
  • Association of Pathology Chairs
  • Association of Presbyterian Colleges & Universities
  • Association of Public and Land-grant Universities
  • Association of Research Libraries
  • Association of University and College Counseling Center Directors 
  • Association of Vermont Independent Colleges (AVIC)
  • Biophysical Society
  • Campus Compact 
  • Council for Christian Colleges & Universities
  • Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities
  • Common App
  • Conference for Mercy Higher Education
  • Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges
  • Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area 
  • Consortium on Financing Higher Education 
  • Council for Advancement and Support of Education Council for Opportunity in Education
  • Council of Graduate Schools
  • Council of Independent Colleges 
  • Council of Independent Nebraska Colleges Foundation Council on Governmental Relations
  • Council on Social Work Education
  • Graduate Management Admission Council
  • Great Lakes Colleges Association
  • Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work
  • Higher Education Consultants Association
  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities
  • Independent Colleges of Washington
  • Kansas Independent College Association
  • Louisiana Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • NAFSA: Association of International Educators
  • NASPA - Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education
  • National Association for Campus Activities
  • National Association for College Admission Counseling
  • National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) 
  • National Association of College and University Business Officers
  • National Association of Colleges and Employers
  • National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education
  • National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
  • National Association of System Heads
  • New American Colleges and Universities
  • New England Commission of Higher Education
  • New Hampshire College and University Council
  • NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation
  • NODA-Association for Orientation, Transition, and Retention in Higher Education 
  • North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Oregon Alliance of Independent Colleges and Universities
  • Phi Beta Kappa Society 
  • State Higher Education Executive Officers Association
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) 
  • Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities
  • The Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors
  • WASC Senior College & University Commission (WSCUC)
  • Yes We Must Coalition