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Students at Williams College in Massachusetts are angry. According to a petition (PDF) signed by hundreds of students, the faculty is urging the college to enact “reckless and dangerous policies” that will “imperil marginalized students,” and amount to “discursive violence.”
What awful set of policies could Williams College faculty possibly be considering?
It is a version of the policy known as the “Chicago Statement.” Created in 2015 by a committee led by legal scholar Geoffrey Stone at the University of Chicago, the statement “recommit[s] the university to the principles of free, robust, and uninhibited debate.” It explicitly reminds students and faculty on campus that they have a “responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect,” and that “concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be.” The policies that accompany these principles not only protect political expression, but also prevent university administrators from restricting public expression to tiny areas of campus. Often misleadingly called “free speech zones.” This is a distressingly common practice at many universities, and it limits not just political speech but expression of all kinds.