Free speech and viewpoint diversity matter at Chapman University. For the last few years, administrators and a core group of faculty have made it a priority to put those ideals into action. The goal is to create a campus climate that embraces diverse viewpoints among all constituencies—faculty, administrators, staff, and most importantly, students. We believe such a proactive attitude can help to prevent speaker shoutdowns and other disruptions by laying the groundwork for a thoughtful and deliberative response and resolution.
To that end, our faculty senate adopted a campus free speech statement in Fall 2015 modeled after the University of Chicago’s free speech principles. Our student senate did the same in Spring 2016. Within days of the 2016 presidential election, conversations began about how to address, in a thoughtful and respectful way, the emotions students were experiencing along with the protests and other campus events. From that, a core group of faculty members came together informally, representing a broad coalition of disciplines and ideological perspectives, to discuss and plan events to promote free speech and viewpoint diversity.
These events have included a talk by Professor Laura Kipnis of Northwestern University to discuss her experiences regarding Title IX investigations; a talk (by Lori Han) about the challenge of free speech in the Trump era that included a panel discussion (moderated by Jerry Price) with student leaders of diverse campus political organizations (clubs represented included Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Socialists); and a talk by Colonel Ty Deidule of the history department of West Point about Confederate monuments and memory. We have not shied away from controversial topics, and plan to hold similar events in the future. Chapman also has a strong presence within the membership ranks of Heterodox Academy; that number currently stands at ten, including our president, Daniele Struppa.
The challenge remains, however, in making sure that these events and initiatives are not just about the administration making a statement about free speech or faculty endorsing those ideals. Students need to be a high priority, which means having all constituencies working together.
Our student affairs staff have been engaged partners with faculty in this effort. Their commitment to free expression and viewpoint diversity was elevated three years ago when they saw one of our top graduating seniors post this statement on social media: “Free expression is what administrators use to justify oppression on campus.” Alarmed that even our best students could believe that free expression conflicts with advancing diversity, the staff committed itself to educating our students on the academic values of free expression and diversity – and how they can complement each other.
While the 2016 election has seemingly intensified the debate around free expression, we saw it as an opportunity to advance our educational goals. The student affairs staff encouraged students to focus on the more non-partisan issue of polarization; in other words, we wanted students to recognize that the extreme political divergence gripping our society was a threat to the health of our country.
More so, the student affairs staff seeks to illustrate how free expression is similarly not a liberal or conservative value but a critical academic value. They have hosted two open forums for students on free expression and inclusion, emphasizing how both are vital to the university environment, and provided an expanded presentation on the topic for key student leaders.
And it is not enough to just provide forums for a constructive exchange of ideas. Student affairs staff also seek to model what it truly means to be open to listening to what others have to say. We want students to understand that not all those with a different opinion are enemies; most are intelligent, serious people who also want a better world.
Our goal at Chapman goes beyond just talking about the importance of free speech. It is about incorporating these ideals into all aspects of campus life for our students and making sure that we as faculty and administrators never lose sight of the importance free speech, free expression, and diversity (viewpoint and otherwise) must play in all aspects of the educational experience that we provide.
Our advice to others who want to create a campus climate where viewpoint diversity is prioritized is to seek out allies and partnerships among faculty and administrators who share this view. What started as informal conversations on our campus turned into a productive working group of faculty and administrators who were willing to do more than just talk about the issue. Also, don’t assume that someone’s ideological perspective would preclude them from being a passionate supporter of viewpoint diversity. Just as the membership of HxA represents ideological diversity, so too do the faculty, administrators, and students on our campus who support our initiatives.