Purdue University Institutes Free Speech Orientation for Incoming Students

There are many ways for universities to protect free speech and open inquiry on campus, from policy changes that eliminate stifling speech codes, to simple statements in favor of free speech from university officials.

One of the most powerful steps a university can take is to implement the Chicago principles on free expression, and in May of 2015 Purdue University took this massive step towards protecting free speech and open inquiry on campus. However, as we see in this article from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Purdue is not stopping there. The University has recognized that, while adopting the Chicago Principles is an important signal to the campus community, making free expression an underlying value of the campus culture was the best way to ensure that free speech thrives on campus.

With this in mind, the University established a task force to create a new free speech orientation starting with the incoming class of 2020. The nearly 6,000 incoming freshman watched skits, a faculty panel, and video clips aimed to educate these students about the value of free expression on campus. The program was a resounding success and the hope is that this sort of program will be expanded to many other universities in the future; in fact Purdue faculty will present the program at the Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education meeting in 2017 with hopes that the program will spread to other universities.

The faculty and administration at Purdue has reminded us that the best protection for free speech and open inquiry on campus is a culture that recognizes these values as bedrock academic principles. By teaching students the value of free speech and open inquiry early in their college careers, universities can ensure that their institution will remain a place where free speech and open inquiry flourish. As Professor Heather Servaty-Seib, one of the professors who helped build the program, said:

If Purdue has a freedom of expression statement, then students need to be educated about what freedom of expression is. We can’t just expect them to read a statement on their way in and understand what it meant, or how to engage in freedom of expression in a way that would be effective and would create productive dialogue within an educational setting.

A similar program was also instituted this year at the University of Wisconsin. We hope to see an ever increasing number of colleges and universities undertake such programs to educate their incoming students in the principles of open inquiry and free debate.