Regents committee discusses proposed policies on freedom of expression

By Staff

The CU Board of Regents’ Governance Committee on Wednesday advanced an extension and clarification of the university’s commitment to free speech in its policy documents. The proposed changes and additions to policies one, five and seven of the Laws of the Regents articulate the responsibility of members of the university community to “protect the university as a forum for the free expression of ideas.”

The current version of Regent Law focuses on free speech as it relates to academic freedom. The additions more fully address speech on campuses that happens outside classrooms, said Patrick O’Rourke, general counsel and secretary to the Board of Regents.

“These policies demonstrate CU’s historical commitment to freedom of speech,” O’Rourke said. “Universities are the places where people come together to discuss and address important societal issues. They are places where ideas should be debated and judged on their merits. The policies are designed to allow those conversations to occur without censorship.”

The committee voted unanimously to advance the issue to the board’s regular June meeting for a notice of motion. The earliest the full board would vote on the issue is September.

“We’re creating a different type of free speech framework that doesn’t only work for faculty, but for students, staff and speakers on campus,” O’Rourke said.

He stressed in his presentation to the board committee that free speech also includes offensive speech.

“We’ve worked to make university policy consistent with legal lines. The challenge is to counter offensive speech rather than suppress it,” he said.

The framework also considers the requirements of Senate Bill 62, which passed the Colorado Legislature last year and essentially eliminated free speech zones on campuses.

Committee chair Irene Griego said it will be important to ensure the changes are clearly communicated across the university.

“As we develop policies, we need to consider ‘What is it going to look like, feel like and be?’ Policies define what our culture is going to be,” Griego said.

Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Lightner said the changes make for a more robust policy.

“This provides a really evolved framework from what we have now,” he said.