University appoints free-speech task force


By Daily Illini Staff Report

The University campus is developing a task force to create policies meant to maintain free speech and an all-inclusive environment.

“We are gathering representatives from a number of sectors on our large campus to develop processes and perhaps even policies to guide our hosting of divisive visiting speakers,” said Provost Fellow Kevin Hamilton in an email.

The goal is to avoid violating people’s right to free speech, and to encourage everyone to share diverse viewpoints in a respectful manner.  

He said the action is not a response to any one incident, but rather to a larger cultural moment, and has been in planning since last spring.

“We are trying to be anticipatory and proactive at a moment when college campuses are very much in the national spotlight as sites of conflict over the definition and effects of offensive speech,” Hamilton said.

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Hamilton said that questions regarding whether it is legally or morally acceptable or desirable to deny a request to host a guest speaker must be addressed.

“Where we do host speakers whose record or speech is offensive, we must develop processes for addressing claims of harm as a result of such speech,” he said.

The task force will be comprised of faculty, administrators and students, and is scheduled to be appointed within the next month.

“At a more logistical level, we need to make sure we’re coordinated in how academic administration, student life resources, facilities managers and campus safety officials address such requests and the resulting events,” he said. “We need to understand what our commitments and responsibilities are in cases where protests seek to prohibit such events from taking place.”

Chancellor Robert Jones plans to launch a series of discussions meant to bring together diverse viewpoints on topics ranging from free speech to immigration.

In a Massmail, Jones highlighted the importance of listening and understanding viewpoints different from one’s own.

Hamilton said these matters “intersect enough disparate domains across our campus and community that the task force will need representation or consultation from a diverse group of constituencies, from student life to academic affairs, campus safety and more.”  

He believes the group’s efforts will be best served by careful consultation and examination of precedents at home and abroad, and by testing devised processes through scenario planning of imagined events and responses.

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