Because American College of Education (the “College”) is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the College community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn. Except insofar as limitations on that freedom of expression are necessary to the functioning of the College, the College fully respects and supports the freedom of all members of the College community “to discuss,” in the words of former College University of Chicago President Robert M. Hutchins, “any problem that presents itself.”
Of course, the ideas of different members of the College community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the College to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the College greatly values civility, and although all members of the College community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.
The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish. For example, the College may restrict expression, for example, that violates the law that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the College. In addition, the College may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the College. But these are narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression, and it is vitally important that these exceptions never be used in a manner that is inconsistent with the College’s commitment to a completely free and open discussion of ideas.
The College’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the College community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the College community, not for the College as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the College community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the College’s educational mission.
As a corollary to the College’s commitment to protect and promote free expression, members of the College community must also act in conformity with the principle of free expression. Although members of the College community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed on campus, in our administrative offices and online, and to criticize and contest speakers who are invited to express their views on campus, at various functions of the College such as commencement, and in all online environs, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe. To this end, the College has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.