Attention incoming freshmen at the University of Colorado: The university will protect freedom of speech, not freedom from speech.
That is our direct, somewhat insensitive way of explaining a dainty letter the CU Board of Regents approved for distribution at the insistence of Regent Chance Hill. A lawyer and firebrand defender of civil rights and other constitutional protections, Hill represents Colorado Springs and the rest of the Fifth Congressional District on the Board of Regents.
Hill, in talks with fellow regents, drafted the letter and did his best to make it apolitical and nonconfrontational. A resolution passed Friday by the regents committed them to send the letter by email to incoming freshmen the first week of classes each year.
The letter explains how all regents, who govern all four of the university’s campuses, took an oath to uphold all portions of the state and federal constitutions. Each protects free speech.
“We uphold our students’ ability to voice their beliefs, even when others construe their speech as wrong or insensitive,” the letter states.
That means students should not expect the administration to punish someone who uses a gender-specific pronoun or insults a Catholic, a Jew, a Muslim, a Republican, a Democrat, a heterosexual, a homosexual, etc., ad infinitum.
Freedom of speech includes the freedom to offend or express an idea far outside the boundaries of sociopolitical fashion. The founders gave us a First Amendment to protect unpopular speech. Commonly accepted ideas require no protection.
Of course, we discourage people from abusing free speech to cause offense intentionally. With freedom comes an expectation of responsibility, sensitivity and decorum. Be kind and exercise the Golden Rule. Meanwhile, expect the world to consist of bullies, jerks and insensitive blowhards who cannot and should not have their words curtailed by authorities.
The letter continues: “We do not confine expression to free speech zones that shield individuals from perspectives different from their own. We fundamentally believe more communication and a greater exchange of ideas between people of diverse backgrounds makes our constitutional republic stronger. The University is a marketplace of ideas, and you will most benefit from your time here as an active participant.”
This polite admonition should seem unnecessary to anyone who understands the values that make America a place others fight to be part of. It sounds like common sense, in a country founded on freedom of expression. Maybe we need this for kindergartners; not young adults. Right? Wrong.
Sadly, students need this letter today. In protecting free speech on campus, CU regents are unique.
Their free speech assurance will stand out as a relatively extreme position in modern academe — where universities pass speech codes and condemn, punish and confine controversial expressions to “zones” secluded from the general population.
With Friday’s resolution and the exceedingly reasonable letter drafted by Hill, CU stands distinguished among a few great institutions of higher education that protect free speech — a cornerstone of any meaningful education.
The Gazette Editorial Board