The cancellation of the William Ayers speech was the most recent in a history of BC events highlighting the need to affirm basic principles of free speech and academic freedom on our campus. In the April 2, 2009 edition of Inside Higher Ed, the President of the national AAUP singled out BC for failing to respect academic freedom, casting a pall on the reputation of the university (see link to article at right). This is causing deep concern among students and faculty, since it could affect admissions, faculty recruitment, and research opportunities. On May 1, about 25 professors from many different departments and schools heard from members of the Provost’s Advisory Council and discussed the BC Speakers Policy. We saw a draft of an initial recommendation for a new speaker’s policy from the administration (see link at right) that caused us even greater concern. We are asking for your signature supporting our concerns—expressed in the following statement--and the need for a faculty-wide forum in the fall of 2009 to ensure that our university protects free speech of all students, faculty, staff, and administrators. Statement on Free Speech and Expression on the Boston College Campus Our conviction that students at Boston College should be allowed to invite and hear speakers of their own choosing is rooted in our university’s commitment to the Jesuit tradition of humanistic liberal arts education. At its core, this distinctive intellectual tradition seeks to foster critical inquiry and analytic, ethical, and spiritual discernment so as to prepare students to become informed and responsible citizens in the wider world. As faculty, we seek to nurture habits of discernment through mentorship in both the classroom and in the larger intellectual atmosphere of our university. Providing students with the responsibility for selecting speakers and organizing intellectual events of their own choosing is a key aspect of the process of fostering discernment. It likewise prepares students to be active and responsible citizens in a nation that protects First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly. Some sponsored speakers and events will inevitably prove more controversial than others. Controversies in science and the arts, as well as in matters of religion, culture and politics, are central aspects of the world in which we live. Teaching our students to engage with controversy in a critically reflective and ethically attentive manner is part of our university’s mission. This mission can only be achieved if students are permitted to openly explore and debate ideas, including those from other religious traditions and value systems. Any attempt to censor what our students learn—or impede access to ideas or information—diminishes the intent of the university’s mission. As such, we support a university speaker policy that provides Boston College students with the privileges and responsibilities of sponsoring speakers and intellectual events of their own choosing. The nation’s top-ranked universities—private, public and religious—understand the importance of academic freedom and free speech to academic excellence. We believe that Boston College must affirm its commitment to these values if it hopes to become, as the Strategic Plan asserts, “the leader in liberal arts education among American universities.” Our position reflects that of the American Association of University Professors, the preeminent professional organization in higher education. In its 1990 statement on Academic Freedom for Students, the AAUP states that “Those routine procedures required by an institution before a guest speaker is invited to appear on campus should be designed only to ensure that there is orderly scheduling of facilities and adequate preparation for the event, and that the occasion is conducted in a manner appropriate to an academic community.” In 2005, the AAUP further noted that while colleges may announce that they do not officially endorse a speaker or his/her views, “they should not cancel a speech because people on campus or in the community either disagree with its content or disapprove of the speaker.” Boston College does not presently follow such a policy; it reserves the right to review student-initiated programs and has on several occasions canceled scheduled events (see text of Speakers Policy link at right). In its new draft guidelines, the administration is now proposing to add a list of conditions governing faculty sponsorship of student-initiated events that would further restrict the community’s ability to hear speakers and have a chilling effect on public debate. We believe that such restrictions are unwarranted, that they will discourage faculty sponsorship, and lend themselves to institutional censorship. We thus urge the administration to reject such restrictions and affirm a commitment to free speech and academic freedom on the Boston College campus. UPDATE--6/5/09: Provost Garza recently announced that the draft guidelines for faculty sponsorship are no longer being considered. This is a positive development, but we feel that the larger principles of free speech and academic freedom at Boston College are still very much at risk. We therefore urge you, if you haven't already, to add your signature and join us this October at a faculty-led forum on free speech at BC.