07:05 AM

DU Forms First Ever Freedom of Expression Committee

The Faculty Senate at the University of Denver codified the University’s long-standing commitment to free and open dialogue with the creation of the Statement of Policy and Procedures on Freedom of Expression last May.

This formalized policy defends and supports the University’s stance that freedom of expression is vital to the fundamental goals of DU and higher education—where diverse perspectives should be shared, examined and critiqued.

Recognizing that there can be challenges, especially with controversial speech, the policy creates a Freedom of Expression Committee to create opportunities for meaningful dialogue around contentious issues and ensure the principles of free speech are upheld.

The Committee, which serves an advisory role to the Chancellor, will promote free expression on campus and is charged with the following:

1. proactively creating forums for meaningful, responsible engagement of diverse and opposing viewpoints among all campus constituencies, particularly concerning the types of issues that are likely to lead to tensions on campus;

2. addressing such issues as they arise in ways that aim to resolve them in a manner that increases dialogue, respects speakers of diverse viewpoints, and seeks to heal and build community;

3. when requested, assisting the University in examining issues of freedom of expression

“The goal of creating such a Committee is to cultivate amongst constituencies across campus a deep understanding of and appreciation for the value of freedom of expression, particularly as that value intersects with other, equally central DU values, notably diversity and inclusivity,” said Kate Willink, president of the faculty senate. “It is not about saying no to events or opportunities that allow for diverse viewpoints and examination of ideas.”

Finding more ways to say “yes” sets DU apart from many of its peer institutions which are looking for ways to say no to events, speakers or opportunities.

The Statement of Policy & Principles on Freedom of Expression was adopted by the Faculty Senate last May, voted upon by the full faculty with 86 percent of all faculty in support and reaffirmed by the Board of Trustees in January. (View the full timeline here.)

The Committee will work proactively with entities on campus to create educational materials about the responsible practice of free expression on campus. As members of the community plan debates, demonstrations, visits from potentially controversial speakers or other events where issues of freedom of expression may arise, the Committee will advise on ways to design events to respect the value of free expression and inclusion. They will also serve as a response team, helping address issues of freedom of expression in real time. They will meet 1-2 times per quarter and must be available within an eight-hour response time when urgent issues arise.

Absent a commitment to freedom of expression, the University cannot promote its key values: excellence, innovation, engagement, integrity and inclusiveness. A commitment to free speech must include a commitment to inclusiveness to ensure that all members of our community feel equally welcome to participate in discourse and receive divergent information and perspectives.

After an open call to the entire campus, inviting applicants during fall quarter, the following six members were selected to the Committee:

  • Kamal Ararso – PhD Student: Morgridge College of Education
  • Woody Colahan – Faculty: University Libraries
  • Brenna Cox – MA Graduate Student: Morgridge College of Education
  • Kate McHargue – Staff: Driscoll Student Center
  • Philip Tedeschi – Faculty: Graduate School of Social Work
  • Cody Walizer – PhD Student: Communication Studies

These Committee members join Morgan Smith (undergraduate student body president), Kate Willink (current faculty senate president), Mary Sue Brown (staff advisory council president), Armond Townes (faculty of color association representative), Darrin Hicks (incoming faculty senate president) and Ariel Zarate (graduate student body president).

The Committee will serve for one year with the ability to reapply for no more than two additional years.

The Committee also includes standing Ex Officio Members which include:

  • Provost or his or her designee
  • Director of Campus Safety or his or her designee
  • Vice Chancellor of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence or his or her designee
  • General Counsel

More than 20 members of the community applied for six available positions. The process included interviews and careful review of each applicant’s materials while keeping in mind the need to have representation from across all community stakeholders. No additional undergraduate representation was possible as the only two undergraduate applicants that applied, withdrew before selections were made.