3 guiding principles for responding to free speech issues

At a recent event, attendees outlined three guiding principles for campus administrators to use when responding to free speech incidents on campus, Frederick Lawrence and William Marimow write for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Lawrence is former the president of Brandeis University, CEO of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, and a lecturer in law at Georgetown University. Marimow is a Pulitzer-prize winner, former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and vice president of strategic planning for its parent company.

Lawrence and Marimow note that free speech is a costly issue—the cost of controversial speaker visits can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars—and that social media and negative publicity can exacerbate tough situations.

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During a recent event at Trinity University, attendees discussed guiding principles for responding to free speech issues on campus. Lawrence and Marimow share three of attendees' suggestions.

1: Aim to provide as much freedom as possible.

Aside from a few exceptions, such as threats, the goal should be to keep discussion, debate, and expression as free as possible.

2: Free speech can be particularly hurtful to some students.

The cost of free expression "is not shouldered equally by all members of the community," Lawrence and Marimow note. When making decisions about free speech, consider the experiences of different students on campus.

3: You don't have to agree with speech to protect it.

Event attendees discussed that, while it's a fine line to walk, administrators can defend a speaker's right to speak while also clearly explaining that the content of the speech does not align with the institution's values, Lawrence and Marimow write (Lawrence/Marimow, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/9).

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