Free Speech and Open Inquiry Initiative

At the Institute for Humane Studies, we believe vibrant debate is essential to the college experience. In a liberal society, institutions of higher education should be epicenters of open inquiry, and faculty should feel secure in their role of encouraging their students to ask questions and enter conversations on complex issues.

IHS strongly believes that freedom of expression is critical to student growth and learning, to the advance of knowledge, and to the progress of free societies. To support faculty in creating a culture of free and open inquiry on campuses, IHS has launched the Open Inquiry Project, a platform for faculty learning and engagement on the issues of free speech and independent thought on college campuses.

Creating a Culture of Freedom on Campus

We believe the university is its faculty. Faculty-led efforts can have a huge impact in cultivating and sustaining a culture of free speech and open inquiry on their campuses.

We are encouraged by the passage of resolutions such as those passed by the University of Chicago in January 2015, affirming the school’s longstanding commitment to freedom of expression.  The resolution colloquially referred to as the “Chicago Principles” in part says:

“. . . the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.”

A Framework for Campus Free Speech

To assist higher education leaders in addressing the issues and controversies related to freedom of speech and thought, the Institute for Humane Studies has produced a booklet that examines the issue from multiple angles.

Prepared by Prof. Donald A. Downs, George Waldner, Emily Chamlee-Wright, the guide covers topics such as:

  • What higher education’s obligation to students and society means for free speech on campus
  • The relation of intellectual diversity to the principles of general diversity and toleration.
  • The implications of regulating academic research, classroom speech, and public forums on campus
  • How to engage with campus stakeholders on free speech and open inquiry


 Take the Next Step to Promote Free Speech on Your Campus

We know your campus is unique, and there is no out-of-the-box way to make every institution a bastion of free expression. Instead, we’d like to work with you one-on-one to provide you with the tools needed for your campus.

We invite you to contact us with ideas you have for programs and events you’d like to run highlighting the importance of free speech and we’ll help or connect you with the support and resources you need to make it happen.

Here is a sample of the wide variety of faculty-led educational activities IHS supports:

  • Hosting a debate among scholars on controversial issues to demonstrate the virtues of civil discourse
  • Forming a discussion group for students, faculty, and/or administrators on free speech and open inquiry
  • Hosting a seminar involving faculty, administrators, and/or students on free speech and open inquiry. (A sample of recommended readings can be found here)
  • Engaging with student organization(s) on issues related to free speech and open inquiry

We can help by providing logistical and financial support, but also connecting you with speakers to make your event a success.

Note: We believe the topic of campus free speech is not only important to faculty, but also students. Click here to see our free speech resources for students.