Lehigh President Joseph Helble guested at the faculty’s first Senate meeting last month to propose the adoption of policies promoting and respecting free speech on campus.
“I haven’t seen any movements to curb free speech,” Helble said. “But we don’t have a written policy on respect for free speech.”
When asking faculty to decide how best to support Lehigh’s diverse views, Helble pointed to the Chicago Principles — a set of principles written by the University of Chicago and adopted by colleges across the country — as guidelines for Promote free speech on campus.
He asked the Senate to make a decision based on three options: do nothing — consistent with the feeling that Lehigh does not need a written statement of free speech, which adopts the Chicago Principles with an additional preamble regarding Lehigh or continue the process of having Lehigh write and adopt his own policies through a new committee.
This committee would be entirely new and would include stakeholders beyond faculty members.
“One of the real questions is, ‘Have we covered this in other areas before?’ and ‘Do we need to add more words, or have we already made our values and principles clear?’” said English professor Jenna Lay, representing the College of Arts and Sciences. “The work that this group will be doing addresses that question.”
This committee would post a first draft online to receive feedback from the community and revise it to finalize a version of Lehigh’s principles of free speech.
Faculty members responded to the proposal with questions and feedback, such as: B. Lehigh’s rationale for free speech, which will now be addressed.
Helbe said the idea isn’t a response to controversy, but a way to ensure students have an open mind if anything arises in the future: a proactive plan rather than a reactive one.
“If an open, honest and respectful discussion about challenging issues cannot take place on the university campus, where can it?” said Helble a video to the Lehigh community. “Our goal through this work will be to provide a common understanding.”
Kevin Narizny, professor of international relations, spoke out in favor of the principles.
He said Students have expressed concerns about discussing important political issues because they fear being pushed out of their peer group or being judged badly by professors for saying things on the other side of the political spectrum.
President Helble said an essential part of the Lehigh community is the ability to intentionally learn from one another.
“Without a policy statement (on free speech), we don’t fully encourage students to push boundaries,” Helble said at the meeting.
Regarding getting feedback from the Lehigh student body, Student Senate President Victoria Drzymala said the Student Senate represents a variety of students, but not all.
“I think the student senate is a good place to start getting feedback from students, but if that’s something that pulls through then opening it up to some forums can be beneficial,” Drzymala said.
The faculty senate provided feedback by referring to the principles of an equal community and also examining the history of free speech in Lehigh.
“Whether (students) are talking in their classroom, at clubs, or in groups of friends, they’re communicating with each other and with faculty and staff all the time,” Lay said. “So it’s really crucial that we get the prospects of the students.”