“Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn . . . . [I]t 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.”
—Excerpt from the Chicago Statement
What is the Chicago Statement?
The “Chicago Statement” refers to the free speech policy statement produced by the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago. In July of 2014, University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Eric D. Isaacs tasked the Committee with “articulating the University’s overarching commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation among all members of the University’s community.” The Committee, which was chaired by esteemed University of Chicago Law School professor Geoffrey Stone, released the report in January of 2015.
This Statement is part of a long tradition of reports emphasizing the importance of freedom of speech at institutions of higher learning, including the American Association of University Professors’ famous 1915 “Declaration of Principles” and 1940 “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure,” Yale University’s “Woodward Report,” and the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report.
FIRE quickly endorsed the Chicago Statement because it embodies the principles that FIRE defends every day. The statement is also an important reflection of how the principles of free speech are essential to the core purpose of a university. Since its release, FIRE has been working with colleges and universities around the country to adopt their own version of the Chicago Statement, in order to combat censorship on campus and protect the free speech rights and academic freedom of students and professors.
Who has adopted the Statement?
Faculty bodies, administrations, and institutional governing boards have officially endorsed the Chicago Statement at over 80 institutions including Princeton University, Purdue University, American University, Columbia University, Georgetown University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among others.
Why is adopting the Chicago Statement important?
When your school adopts the Chicago Statement, it shows that your institution values free expression for all students and faculty. Free speech rights benefit everyone on campus, and reaffirm the core purpose of a university – a place for free inquiry, debate, and discourse. Whether your goal is to campaign, protest, do research, or simply learn in an environment that promotes open inquiry and the free exchange of ideas, the Chicago Statement will help hold your institution accountable for protecting the free expression rights of students and faculty.
My school maintains “yellow light” or “red light” speech codes. Can we still adopt the Chicago Statement?
Yes. In fact, adopting a version of the Chicago Statement often gives the impetus for speech code reform. Thus, the adoption of the Chicago Statement by non-administrative groups can be an important step toward securing student and faculty free speech rights and achieving FIRE’s highest, “green light” rating. When a faculty senate, university-wide committee, or student government endorses the Statement, it sends a strong message to university leadership that students and faculty want their speech to be fully protected.
My university earns a green light rating from FIRE. Do we still need to adopt the Chicago Statement?
The green light rating is given to colleges and universities whose policies nominally protect freedom of speech. Even if your school has received FIRE’s green light rating, it is still important to adopt the Chicago Statement. A free speech statement is a set of principles the university community aspires to achieve. Adopting the Chicago Statement describes how the university hopes to cultivate an atmosphere of expression and debate – an endeavor that is important even if university policy already nominally protects free speech.
How can I bring the Chicago Statement to my campus?
Here are several tips for ensuring that your university will be the next institution to stand in solidarity with the Chicago Statement’s principles:
Work to pass a student government resolution calling on the university to adopt its own version of the Chicago Statement.
Reach out to faculty members and work with faculty governing bodies on campus.
Build a broad coalition of students and groups, particularly across the ideological spectrum, to support the Chicago Statement and raise awareness on campus.
Publish articles and op-eds in student newspapers and other outlets.
Host events on campus, such as debates, speakers, and panels to discuss the principles supported by the Chicago Statement.
Communicate and collaborate with members of your university’s administration.
Host a petition drive, asking students to pledge their support for the Chicago Statement’s principles in a petition that will go to the administration.
FIRE’s Chicago Statement Resources
Model Freedom of Expression Resolution Based on the Chicago Statement
Template Letter to Alma Mater
Washington Post op-ed by FIRE’s Will Creeley and University of Chicago Law Professor Geoffrey Stone
FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff in The Huffington Post: “Every University in the Country Should Adopt the University of Chicago’s Academic Freedom Statement”
FIRE’s Newsdesk article “Universities should endorse free expression now, avoid criticism later”
Pledge Your Support for the Chicago Statement