Liebowitz’s email on free speech task force
On Jan. 17, President Ron Liebowitz sent out an email regarding the ongoing debate on free expression on campus. In order to enable “respectful discourse” and learn “from various perspectives,” Liebowitz will be appointing a task force to review the University’s Principles of Free Speech and Free Expression. Previous measures to promote free speech on campus include several faculty panels and a day-long teach-in. “The creation of a task force on free expression has been the subject of a motion passed by the faculty and I have solicited input from the Faculty Senate Council on nominations for task force membership,” Liebowitz wrote.
Liebowitz explained that reviewing freedom of speech and academic freedom in the context of higher education is crucial when initiating the task force. Furthermore, he clarified that Brandeis' mission is the “pursuit of truth and the creation and sharing of knowledge.” The email stated that the mission will be impeded “when ideas are suppressed… due to public and peer pressure or intimidation.” Liebowitz acknowledged that “the result is the narrowing of expressed viewpoints and lost opportunities to learn from others” is “a diminishment of our educational purpose.”
He also acknowledged that over the past three months, he had heard students’ concern and disapproval of the campus climate “on account of the polarized and contentious nature of campus discussions, [students’] fear of stating their opinions, and the vitriol [students] have been subjected to on social media” and parents’ concerns of their students’ safety. Liebowitz clarified that the University’s highest priority is the safety of the community members “even when it challenges the University’s deep commitment to free expression and support of student activism.”
He said that the freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution and defines the right to “speak, write, and share ideas and opinions without facing punishment from the government.” Private institutions such as Brandeis “are legally able to develop individual policies and principles related to speech based on a framework other than the First Amendment,” Liebowitz explained.
The University president elaborated that freedom of speech and academic freedom can be defined by an institution’s “code of conduct” and federal statutes. Based on federal statutes Title VI and Title IX, Liebowitz explained, speech includes discrimination and harassment and “creates a hostile learning environment” are unprotected. Liebowitz stated that when speech that creates hostility on campus and threatens a safe learning environment are made, educational institutions should respond to such threats.