Jason Wu/Sun Senior Editor

Cornell will join 12 other universities in a commitment to free expression.

August 15, 2023

As New School Year Commences, Free Expression Continues to be a Campus Priority

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A guiding principle of the 2023-2024 school year will be free expression, as announced in May by President Martha Pollack. On Tuesday, August 15, the University made an initial step towards advancing this initiative.

Pollack joined 12 other university presidents in launching Campus Call for Free Expression, a joint effort “to advance the principles of critical inquiry and civil discourse that are essential to prepare young people to be the empowered citizens our country needs,” according to the press release. Convened by the Institute for Citizens & Scholars, an organization that provides civic engagement fellowships and partnerships, the colleges commit to holding free expression trainings, guest speakers, courses and artistic endeavors. Cornell specifically is committing to hosting debates among diverse speakers who model civil discourse, in addition to exhibitions and performances.

“It is critical to our mission as a university to think deeply about freedom of expression and the challenges that result from assaults on it, which today come from both ends of the political spectrum,” Pollack said in the press release. “Learning from difference, learning to engage with difference and learning to communicate across difference are key parts of the Cornell education. Free expression and academic freedom are the bedrock of not just the university, but of democracy.”

Among the participating colleges are Duke University, Rutgers University, the University of Notre Dame and Wellesley College. Though Cornell is the only Ivy League university participating in the program, other institutions, like Princeton University, have made similar commitments towards revitalizing free inquiry on campus.

This program was announced the day after a list of policy recommendations were sent to administrators by the Cornell Free Speech Alliance, a group of alumni advocating for free speech at the University. The recommendations include “eliminating DEI course requirements and any form of compelled speech” and “protecting the right to host and listen to outside speakers without harassment.” 

“I think [the CFSA is] well intentioned. I think they care about the University,” Pollack said in a May interview with The Sun. “They do not have any official connection to the University, [and] they do not speak for the University. They do not speak for me. I do not speak for them.”

Pollack also said she finds it “incredibly frustrating” that groups like the CFSA attack diversity, equity and inclusion principles under the guise of defending free speech and that she will defend DEI as strongly as she defends free expression.

A University spokesperson declined to comment on the policy recommendations put forth by the CFSA.