‘Chicago principles’ needed at University of Minnesota

Jasper Johnson

Free speech on American campuses has popped up frequently in the news this past year. We’ve seen growing support for trigger warnings, absurd cries against micro-aggressions and even the cancellation of mildly divisive speakers due to mob opinion against their ideas. 
 
Even here at the University of Minnesota, free speech ironically came under fire in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack. The University ordered staff to take down “offensive” fliers promoting a series of lectures on freedom of speech because they depicted a Charlie Hebdo cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad. 
 
To me, academic institutions have an obligation to actively support free discussion, and the University should do so by endorsing the “Chicago principles.”
 
Just over a year ago, the University of Chicago chose to adopt what are now known as the “Chicago principles.” The principles are robustly in favor of free expression, stating that it is “not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.” After the
University of Chicago’s declaration, Purdue University and Princeton University followed suit by adopting the same principles. 
 
These doctrines no doubt highlight a stark contrast to the growing social climate of censorship on campuses. However, I believe that all respectable academic institutions ought to realize the essential nature of controversial discussions. They should ally themselves with the virtues inherent to freedom of speech. 
 
While restrictions on campus freedom of speech may at first appear to be based on honorable intentions — such as fostering an inclusive environment or preventing community animosity — it’s apparent that the restrictions have some far more sinister implications. 
 
When I engage in discussions about freedom of speech, I rarely find someone who claims they oppose it. Instead, seemingly everyone supports whatever they consider to be the “true” freedom of speech. 
 
The subjectivity of hateful or offensive speech is what leads me to take a controversial stance: We need to protect all speech, even hate speech. 
 
Unless we relegate ourselves to pointless, relativist discussions, offense is inevitable. If a person stands for anything — even something as basic as human rights — I can guarantee that they will upset someone else. 
 
If you think that rape victims shouldn’t be honor-killed, someone will be mad at you. If you oppose genocide, you will make an enemy. The strangest and most ironic part of all this is that when we surrender our right to discuss controversial subjects, we can no longer criticize overt forms of hatred for fear of offense. Thus, we lose our most powerful tool to combat injustice: dialogue. 
 
The job of a university is not to police speech. Doing so only limits discussion. On the contrary, the role of an academic institution is to promote intellectual growth and open discussion, which plays an invaluable role in this development. To that end, I highly recommend that the University of Minnesota adopt the “Chicago principles” to further set the bar for future freedom of speech policies.