OU adopts Chicago Statement on free speech

Jan. 12—The University of Oklahoma recently adopted the Chicago Statement, a document that promotes free speech on campus. It has the support of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

In a press release, OU said the Chicago Statement coincides with OU's existing policies on free expression and academic freedom, and that its adoption followed an assessment and recommendation from the university's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Freedom of Speech and Inquiry Committee.

"Widely revered as the 'gold standard' declaration of the importance of freedom of speech and inquiry in higher education, the Chicago Statement cuts to the core of who we are as a flagship research university," said Joseph Harroz Jr., OU president. "Its adoption at OU further affirms the value we place on these essential rights while instilling a culture of dignity and respect for all."

The statement was first developed at the University of Chicago in 2015, and since then, over 90 universities have adopted the statement or crafted similar statements, according to FIRE.

In a statement directed to The Transcript, the University of Oklahoma said the adoption will not require personnel or infrastructure changes for its implementation.

"As the university lives up to its promise to be a place that champions civility, constructive discourse and the robust search for truth and knowledge, inevitable controversies around viewpoint differences will arise," according to the OU statement. "The Chicago Statement will offer a touchstone for such times and serve as a reminder of how we are to engage with one another."

Mary Griffin is a senior program officer at FIRE, based in Philadelphia, and an expert on the Chicago Statement, and she said she applauds OU's decision to implement the free speech document.

"The official adoption of the Chicago Statement strengthens free expression for all on campus — including both faculty and students. Although some may lean on the free speech promises made in the statement to engage in offensive expression, the overall result will be an improved campus climate for expression," Griffin said.

She said that the Chicago Statement does not protect against hate speech, as supported by the Supreme Court's interpretation of the First Amendment.

"Not all speech enjoys First Amendment protection: expression that constitutes harassment, a 'true threat,' incitement, or otherwise falls into one of the distinct, legally defined categorical exceptions to the First Amendment can be subject to regulation," Griffin said.

She said that the Chicago Statement also does not directly address misinformation.

"The statement urges members of the university community to 'debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas.' The spirit of the statement would encourage students and faculty to investigate, challenge and debate ideas they consider misinformation in order to pursue truth," said Griffin.

The adoption of the Chicago Statement is intended to strengthen free speech for everyone on campus, including faculty and students.

"Although some may lean on the free speech promises made in the statement to engage in offensive expression, the overall result will be an improved campus climate for expression," Griffin said. "This improved campus climate fosters debate and discourse so students and others who want to counter hateful or offensive ideas will be confident in the administration's support of their right to do so."