From the Register Guard:
UO should endorse faculty’s free speech policy
By David Craig (GTFF), Michael Dreiling (UAUO) and Carla McNelly (SEIU).
Change is in the air at the University of Oregon. After more than 80 years of operating under the authority of a statewide board, the UO will formally become an independent public body as of July 1, governed by a new board of trustees.
We can anticipate a healthy debate on many issues still facing the university — tuition and affordability, fundraising, intercollegiate athletics and growth, among others.
But there is at least one issue on which every constituency on campus should be able to find common ground: a robust and far-reaching free speech and academic freedom policy.
On April 9, the elected UO Senate unanimously approved a statement on academic freedom that is among the strongest in the country. The policy commits the UO to supporting “open, vigorous, and challenging debate across the full spectrum of human issues as they present themselves to the university community.”
The policy specifically protects academic freedom in the areas of research, teaching, public service and shared governance. It affirms that “members of the university community have freedom to address, question, or criticize any matter of institutional policy or practice, whether acting as individuals or as members of an agency of institutional governance.”
Notably, the policy applies not only to the teaching, research and service activities of faculty, but also to undergraduate and graduate students, classified staff and visitors to campus, permitting free debate and expression without fear of institutional reprisal.
As leaders of the labor unions representing the faculty, graduate teaching fellows and classified workers — totaling more than 5,000 employees at the UO — we are heartened that the University Senate has adopted an exemplary policy that can become a model for the nation.
Like the University Senate, we envision a campus that encourages free speech with no limitations on subject matter and robust speech protections in an academic context.
UO President Michael Gottfredson has publicly expressed his support for a vigorous and expansive policy, stating that “academic freedom is central to our mission and underlies everything we do as a university. I fully support the strongest policy possible to affirm and strengthen this freedom.” We hope he will sign this important initiative.
In Corvallis, Oregon State University already has a comprehensive policy on academic freedom, not limiting speech to any particular area and thus ensuring freedoms to all expression of opinion in governance and public affairs. Furthermore, OSU’s policy ensures freedom of speech for staff as well as faculty. Their policy reads: “The university does not attempt to control the personal opinion, nor the public expression of that opinion, of any member of the faculty or staff of the institution.”
Certainly, freedoms come with responsibilities. The policy adopted by the University Senate at the UO also stipulates responsibilities parallel to those found at OSU. The policy approved by the UO Senate insists that when members of the university community exercise their speech rights, they “should not claim to be acting or speaking on behalf of the university unless authorized to do so.”
Moreover, the policy states that abuses of these freedoms “that rise to the level of professional misbehavior or professional incompetence” may “lead to adverse consequences.” The University Senate passed a responsible and appropriate policy on academic freedom for an institution aspiring to national stature.
As representatives of thousands of employees at the UO, we recognize the value that faculty, graduate students and all nonfaculty employees bring to the academic mission and shared governance of the UO. We trust that President Gottfredson shares this regard. The University Senate’s unanimous declaration leaves us little doubt where our colleagues stand.
If the Beavers can do it, why not the Ducks?
Following the Senate vote, President Gottfredson has 60 days to approve or reject the policy.
Last fall, the university received some unwanted national attention when it was reported that the administration was seeking to curb the free speech rights of faculty.
The president now has an opportunity to join the rest of the university community in supporting a policy that affords the highest possible respect for free speech and academic freedom, and that would signal to the rest of the nation that the UO holds itself to the highest of standards.
David Craig (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation at the University of Oregon. Michael Dreiling (email@example.com ) is president of United Academics at the UO. Carla McNelly (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of Service Employees International Union Local 085.