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.

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On many campuses today, students and faculty are shying away from these questions and conversations, fearful of inflaming heightened sensitivities on these complex issues. Efforts to avoid conflict on such issues, however well-intentioned, threaten to undermine the role of the university and of faculty in promoting intellectual and moral progress. More, the mistaken belief that students need to be protected from challenging and potentially offensive ideas can leave students poorly prepared to productively engage in democratic politics.

-Dr. Jason Ross, Senior Director for Faculty Relations

Creating a Culture of Freedom on Campus

At IHS 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.”

We have partnered with Professor Donald Downs of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a widely renowned and well published scholar of free speech in the academy.

He has been a nationally recognized leader at UW and the nation for promoting free speech and academic freedom on campus, and is the faculty consultant to the Institute for Humane Studies in its national Free Speech and Open Inquiry Project. Professor Downs continues to be a valuable resource for scholars looking to change or protect the environment at their own schools.

“IHS has three things that can help it make a difference on this issue: a philosophy of freedom, dedicated people, and an expansive network of faculty and students.”

– Don Downs

Donald Downs is the Alexander Meiklejohn Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin, and an affiliate professor of law and journalism. He is the author of numerous prize winning books. Among other activities, he was the co-founded the Wisconsin Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy.

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.

IHS wants to support faculty in making certain that free, open, and lively debate flourish in America’s colleges and universities. Contact us at freespeech@theihs.org and one of our Program Officers will work with you to help free and open discussion flourish on your campus.

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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.