The university is working to implement a free speech and expression policy for faculty, according to university administrators at the second Hoya Identity Town Hall on Monday.
Georgetown’s Committee on Speech and Expression, consisting of four administrators and four students, develops the free speech and expression policy, which was first introduced in 1989.
The role of free speech on campus has been a focus of conversation this week, after the Georgetown University College Republicans hosted advocacy group Former Muslims United Director Noni Darwish on Tuesday and and the conservative blog Georgetown Review hosted journalist Asra Nomani, who have both been accused of holding anti-Islamic views.
The policy does not currently apply to faculty, as it is not included in the faculty handbook. Philosophy Professor Wayne Davisaid it is important the free speech and expression policy applies to all community members.
“Currently it only resides in the student handbook and we want to put it in the faculty handbook so that it’s approved by the board of directors and governs everybody,” Davis said.
According to Davis, the free speech and expression policy must be further revised before it is applied to faculty.
“One of the goals we set out is to take this general policy, clean it up, make it legally tighter and put it through the approval process we use for the faculty handbooks. The other thing we’ve noted, looking through this, is that the language of grossly obscene or grossly offensive is legally indefensible — it’s very hard to approve if something merely offensive or grossly offensive,” Davis said.
Academic free speech has come under the spotlight in recent months, following a Twitter exchange between School of Foreign Service professor Christine Fair and Nomani over Nomani’s vote for President Donald Trump. Nomani filed a complaint with the university against Fair after the exchange.
Davis said it is important the university have an effective free speech and expression policy for faculty members.
“The university thought it was very important to get out in front of this and state that we’re for speech and we want to engage people in discussion, we’re not going to simply for close ideas. Since one of the things we look out for in the faculty senate is academic freedom and all the conditions necessary for education and learning, we thought maybe we’ve got to look at our speech and expression policy — see it it’s up to snuff,” Davis said.
Davis said controversial speakers will continue to be invited to campus in the spirit of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas.
“There’s a paragraph in the new policy saying — corollary to both speech and expression — that the idea is to engage people in reason, you can’t do that if you don’t have an environment where people are free to talk and free to comment,” Davis said.
According to Assistant Dean for Student Engagement Erika Cohen-Derr, the Bias Reporting System can be an effective tool in supporting those hurt by hate speech. The current bias reporting system, which was introduced in 2004, enables students to report bias online and find resources to support them through bias incidents.
“At a time when we’re talking a lot about alliance, about how we want to support and lift up the community, how we want to demonstrate support for our brothers and sisters, having good information on the Bias Reporting System, knowing when to use it, knowing how to share this information with others — this is one way that you can be an active contributor to creating a more positive climate.” Cohen-Derr said.
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