Williams College is planning to review and revise its policies due to student outrage over a faculty petition to adopt principles in favor of free speech on campus. Student protesters claim that “free speech harms” minorities and therefore, must be curtailed.
Faculty at Williams College are seeking to adopt the “Chicago principles,” which free speech advocates consider “the gold standard of free speech philosophy,” according to a report by Inside Higher Ed. The proposal has reportedly sparked backlash among students, who are demanding that speech be curtailed on campus.
The Chicago principles, formally known as the “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression,” are a set of guidelines that were published by the University of Chicago, acknowledging that universities should uphold free speech on their campuses. The guidelines are also endorsed and championed by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
“During September 2015, FIRE launched a national campaign asking colleges and universities to adopt the free speech policy statement produced by the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago,” said FIRE in a statement.
Williams College associate professor Luana S. Maroja and other professors circulated the faculty petition calling on the school to adopt the Chicago principles after Maroja had attended a panel discussion on free expression last semester — an experience in which the professor had noted was “appalling.”
The panel included former CNN host Reza Aslan, who made bizarre statements, such as claiming that administrators should dictate what can and cannot be said on college campuses. Professor Maroja noted that Aslan’s statements had baffled her, adding that students had even cheered in response to the former CNN host’s remarks.
“This nonsense was met with intense student applause,” said Maroja, “It was appalling.”
After the panel, Maroja and others circulated the faculty petition, which the professor says has created a “meltdown” on campus, adding that about twenty students had shown up to the formal vote in protest, carrying signs that read, “Free Speech Harms,” among other similar statements.
The professor said that the students eventually started to yell at the white male professors, demanding that they sit down and “acknowledge their privilege.” Maroja added that when she tried to engage in a conversation with the students, believing that her status as a Hispanic woman would compel them to listen, the students yelled at her, too.
“Students were just screaming that we were trying to ‘kill them,'” said Maroja.
The students then put together their own counterpetition, arguing that the Chicago principles — and unfettered free speech in general — harms minorities, according to Inside Higher Ed, which noted that while an updated petition is not currently available, it had 360 signatures the last time it was viewed, adding that the school has a population of 2,000 undergraduate students.
According to Inside Higher Ed, Williams College is planning to revise its policies due to the outrage among students over the faculty petition.