Free Expression on Campus

Free Expression

on Campus

Presented by the Parrhesia Program for Public Discourse and the Chicago Center on Democracy at the University of Chicago

Over the past few years, there has been much debate about the tensions between protecting free speech and creating an inclusive environment on university campuses. There are many interesting and unresolved questions in this area, such as:

  • What is the role of "civility" in conversations on campus? Are calls for civility a weapon used by those who wish to silence certain voices, or is civility a necessary condition for productive discussion?
  • What is the appropriate role of student disruption of classes in response to offensive material in the curriculum?
  • How can universities create spaces that are safe for students, while avoiding insulating them from new ideas?

On on April 27, 2021, two entities at the University of Chicago—the Parrhesia Program for Public Discourse and the Chicago Center on Democracy—convened an all-star panel of five university administrators to discuss how universities are working to resolve the tensions between protecting free speech and creating an inclusive environment on campus. Participants included:

  • Sean Decatur, President, Kenyon College
  • Kimberly Goff-Crews, Secretary and Vice President for University life, Yale University
  • Michael Roth, President, Wesleyan University
  • Michele Rasmussen, Dean of Students, University of Chicago
  • Geoffrey Stone, Professor of Law and former Provost, University of Chicago
  • Leila Brammer, Director, Parrhesia Program for Public Discourse (moderator)

About the panelists

Sean Decatur, President, Kenyon College. Sean Decatur became the 19th president of Kenyon College on July 1, 2013.  Shortly after arriving in Gambier, he led the community in a yearlong conversation to identify the strategic initiatives that would propel the College into its third century. Under Decatur’s leadership, Kenyon has attracted its most diverse and academically talented incoming classes in history. Decatur is a lifelong champion for the liberal arts and an emerging voice in the national conversation about higher education.

Kimberly Goff-Crews, Secretary and Vice President for University Life, Yale University. Kimberly Goff-Crews is responsible for the university’s work to further diversity, equity, and inclusion in service of the university's mission, and ensures the alignment of policies and procedures to maximize support for all students. Ms. Goff-Crews leads Belonging at Yale, an initiative includes the university’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and fosters a learning environment and campus community in which everyone feels a sense of belonging. Before assuming this position at Yale, Ms. Goff-Crews was vice president for campus life and dean of students at the University of Chicago. She also served as the dean of students at Wellesley College and as chief of staff to the president and director of planning at Lesley University.

Michele Rasmussen, Dean of Students, University of Chicago. As Dean of Students at the University of Chicago, Michele Rasmussen works with senior leaders across the University to develop and promote opportunities for students’ intellectual, professional, and personal growth and to provide co-curricular support as students pursue their programs of study and prepare for post-graduate life. Before joining the University in 2013, Rasmussen served as Dean of the Undergraduate College at Bryn Mawr College, and as an academic dean in Duke University’s Trinity College of Arts & Sciences.

Michael Roth, President, Wesleyan University. Michael Roth became the 16th president of Wesleyan University on July 1, 2007. Formerly president of California College of the Arts, Roth is known as a historian, curator, author and public advocate for liberal education. Roth describes his scholarly interests as centered on "how people make sense of the past." Roth’s call for a “pragmatic liberal education” is the cornerstone of both his scholarship and his administrative work at Wesleyan.

Geoffrey Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago. Geoffrey Stone joined the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School in 1973, after serving as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. He later served as Dean of the Law School (1987-1994) and Provost of the University of Chicago (1994-2002). He also chaired the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago, which produced the report widely known as the "Chicago Principles."