Most college presidents say they strive to promote an inclusive environment on campus while also ensuring the protection of free speech rights, but achieving that balance can be challenging. ACE’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy (CPRS) has released the first two briefs in a series that focuses on how presidents and other campus leaders can practically consider and address tensions around inclusion and freedom of expression at their own institutions.
The “To The Point” series of briefs is part of a larger effort by ACE to provide a platform for higher education leaders to exchange ideas and best practices and to build awareness and understanding of the opportunities and challenges in balancing these tensions.
“We want to shift from conversation to action,” said Lorelle Espinosa, ACE’s assistant vice president, CPRS. “Too often, recent events in the media have pitted values of diversity, inclusion, and freedom of expression against each other, when in fact they should be mutually reinforcing. I believe ACE is well-poised to not only be a leader in the discussion around these issues but to empower leaders in the field to take action.”
One issue that has received significant media attention is controversial speakers on campus. This brief explores how institutions can respond and prepare for a controversial speaker’s request to speak on campus. Using data from CPRS’ Pulse Point Survey of college presidents released earlier this year as well as information from a series of ACE convenings, the brief analyzes common assumptions about an institution’s rights when a controversial speaker comes to campus.
It also features a case study involving the University of Florida and its response to white nationalist and alt-right figure Richard Spencer, who spoke on campus last year. University of Florida President W. Kent Fuchs publicly denounced the speaker’s message of hate and racism while expressing concern over students’ well-being prior to Spencer’s visit. Senior leadership also continuously worked to develop a communications strategy that connected students and promoted simultaneous events that counteracted the hateful messages.
Furthermore, the brief outlines numerous important insights involving security, campus climate, and policies that all leaders should consider, whether they are presented with a controversial speaker request or want to be prepared for one.
Read the full brief here.
Hateful Incidents on Campus
Another brief addresses hateful incidents on campus and explores how institutional leaders can balance free speech rights with providing a safe, inclusive, and welcoming environment for students, faculty, and staff.
The brief highlights American University as providing a positive example of how to execute a strategic, coordinated institutional response to hateful incidents during the 2017-18 academic year when defamatory posters were placed on and near campus–some featuring the Confederate flag and anti-Semitic sentiments among other hateful rhetoric.
In an effort to show the university’s stance against hateful acts, President Sylvia Burwell and the university posted on social media condemning the poster’s messages and held a town hall meeting the next day to gauge the pulse of the community and demonstrate empathy and understanding. They also worked in conjunction with the student government and sponsored a rally denouncing hate and emphasizing solidarity.
The brief notes that, while institutional context can vary greatly, including specific obligations under the First Amendment, every campus should be prepared, flexible, and nimble to protect speech rights as well as keep inclusion at the forefront before, during, and after any given incident.
Read the full brief here.
The “To The Point” series of briefs, funded with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is one of several resources on inclusion and expression to be released later this year.
An infographic featuring findings from the Pulse Point Survey of presidents can be found here.
You can find further content and resources on ACE’s work on campus inclusion and free speech by clicking here.