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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Florida State University System Free Expression Statement

The Florida State University System issued a Free Expression Statement to "support and encourage full and open discourse and the robust exchange of ideas and perspectives on our respective campuses." It is a good statement from a First Amendment standpoint. It emphasizes the purpose of higher education in allowing divergent ideas to be debated (a proposition with which my colleague Stanley Fish disagrees); the importance of not stifling ideas because some find them offensive or abhorrent; and that concerns for civility or respect be a cover for stifling expression. It also reiterates schools' power to regulate through neutral time, place, and manner regulations, which still allows administrations to restrict a lot of expression (including by counter-protesters).

The full statement is after the jump.

State University System Free Expression Statement

The State University System of Florida and its twelve public postsecondary institutions adopt
this Statement on Free Expression to support and encourage full and open discourse and the robust exchange of ideas and perspectives on our respective campuses. The principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression in the United States and Florida Constitutions, in addition to being legal rights, are an integral part of our three-part university mission to deliver a high quality academic experience for our students, engage in meaningful and productive research, and provide valuable public service for the benefit of our local communities and the state. The purpose of this Statement is to affirm our dedication to these principles and to seek our campus communities’ commitment to maintaining our campuses as places where the open exchange of knowledge and ideas furthers our mission.

A fundamental purpose of an institution of higher education is to provide a learning environment where divergent ideas, opinions and philosophies, new and old, can be rigorously debated and critically evaluated. Through this process, often referred to as the marketplace of ideas, individuals are free to express any ideas and opinions they wish, even if others may disagree with them or find those ideas and opinions to be offensive or otherwise antithetical to their own world view. The very process of debating divergent ideas and challenging others’ opinions develops the intellectual skills necessary to respectfully argue through civil discourse. Development of such skills leads to personal and scholarly growth and is an essential component of the academic and research missions of each of our institutions.

It is equally important not to stifle the dissemination of any ideas, even if other members of our community may find those ideas abhorrent. Individuals wishing to express ideas with which others may disagree must be free to do so, without fear of being bullied, threatened or silenced. This does not mean that such ideas should go unchallenged, as that is part of the learning process. And though we believe all members of our campus communities have a role to play in promoting civility and mutual respect in that type of discourse, we must not let concerns over civility or respect be used as a reason to silence expression. We should empower and enable one another to speak and listen, rather than interfere with or silence the open expression of ideas.

Each member of our campus communities must also recognize that institutions may restrict expression that is unlawful, such as true threats or defamation. Because universities and colleges are first and foremost places where people go to engage in scholarly endeavors, it is necessary to the efficient and effective operations of each institution for there to be reasonable limitations on the time, place, and manner in which these rights are exercised. Each institution has adopted regulations that align with Florida’s Campus Free Expression Act, section 1004.097, Florida Statutes, and with the United States and Florida Constitutions and the legal opinions interpreting those provisions. These limitations are narrowly drawn and content-neutral and serve to ensure that all members of our campus communities have an equal ability to express their ideas and opinions, while preserving campus order and security.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 16, 2019 at 10:01 AM in First Amendment, Teaching Law | Permalink

Comments

A good rule of thumb for whether colleges stifle free speech or not is whether they permit students and faculty to publicly question affirmative action and transgender rights.

Posted by: Douglas Levene | Apr 20, 2019 10:08:12 PM

Interesting. As a general statement, it is good and reasonable indeed. What is missing, is not to state that:

" We must not let concerns over civility or respect be used as a reason to silence expression "

But rather, to emphasize that this is the desirable way to express opinions. And that is missing with all due respect. This is because, such statement, express concerns that:

" Individuals wishing to express ideas with which others may disagree must be free to do so, without fear of being bullied, threatened or silenced "

But, the point is, that others can be silenced by harsh free speech, although legal and non unethical one as it is. No body count that. Those silent persons, bearing "shadow" or restraint expressions, having fear, to be simply bullied by others.

So, at least some words about civility, not as binding one maybe, but as the desirable one at least.

Thanks

Posted by: El roam | Apr 16, 2019 12:15:23 PM

The University of Pittsburgh School of Law has similar guidelines for speakers: https://www.law.pitt.edu/news-and-events/speaker-guidelines.

Posted by: PittLawProf | Apr 16, 2019 10:20:18 AM

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