BPC Launches Academic Leaders Task Force on Campus Free Expression

December 2, 2020 by Sara Wilkerson
Princeton University. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — As part of the official launch of its Academic Leaders Task Force on Campus Free Expression Initiative, the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C., think tank dedicated to bipartisanship, hosted a roundtable discussion on campus free expression faced by today’s education leaders featuring members of the BPC Academic Leaders Task Force. 

At the beginning of the webinar, opening remarks were delivered by Sens. John Coryn, R-Texas, and Chris Coons, D-Del., who congratulated the BPC for the launch of the task force and remained hopeful for working with the BPC as the senators work to pass S.2024 and H.R.8295

Moderated by Greta Anderson, a student affairs reporter from Inside Higher Education, the panel began their discussion on the rise of renewed interest in campus free expression. 

Panelists Jim Douglas and Christine Gregorie, who serve as the BPC’s Academic Leaders Task Force co-chairs, recalled instances of contention on college campuses that have led to broader discussions on campus free speech. Douglas and Gregorie both noted that these moments of contention involved the right of free speech between students on campus and invited guest speakers. 

“I think we have a lot of reasons to be concerned about free expression on our college campuses and after all, this is the place where we’re looking to train the next generation of American leaders,” stated Douglas. 

He continued, “This is where they ought to be exposed to a variety of viewpoints to hear them, to debate them, to challenge them and in the end to decide based on that experience how they feel about the issues confronting our country. 

“So, it’s a critical time, I believe, in the history of free expression and higher education That’s why I’m really pleased to be joined by my three colleagues today and a group of others, to explore some of the auspices of BPC,” concluded Douglas. 

“At the end of the day, we want to have a civil debate,” said Gregorie of the Task Force’s mission. 

“We want to prove that we’ve got the kind of citizenship that can lead us beyond tomorrow,” he continued. 

Other panelists included Ronald A. Crutcher, president of the University of Richmond, and Carol A. Sumner, the chief diversity officer at Texas Tech University. 

Crutcher and Sumner reflected on the challenges of facilitating polarizing discussions and the importance higher education universities have in the country. 

“As a college president, I see universities playing an incredible role to help sustain the health of our democracy…,” stated Crutcher. 

“We have to take care [of] the kinds of discourse that have made it possible for us to sustain our democracy for so many years and will be continued in the future. 

“For my perspective as an educator, there’s no better place to do that than on a college campus. I see our colleges, particularly our residential college campuses, as being kind of crucibles where students learn how to be engaged citizens in an American democracy,” said Crutcher. 

Echoing the previous panelists, Sumner succinctly described the state of campus free expression by stating, “I would say from my personal experience, working in higher education, you have seen the change over time where discussion and debate has become a different kind of rhetoric. And it’s not about listening, it’s [about] talking at or defending a position. 

“And we’re [BPC Task Force] really interested in making sure that people have the opportunity to engage and to learn from each other. 

“That’s what a college experience should be about. It should be recognizing that as global citizens to value what it means to be a part of a democratic society and what it means to understand a global perspective…,” stated Sumner. 

The BPC Academic Leaders Task Force on Campus Free Expression was formed last month “to identify practices, programs, and policies that foster robust campus cultures,” according to the BPC. 

“Higher education institutions have a special role in America’s democracy, preparing the next generation for civic leadership and principled debate,” said BPC President Jason Grumet in a public statement on the task force. 

“Our democracy cannot succeed if we accept the false premise that free expression is somehow at odds with cultural diversity, inclusion, and individual wellbeing,” continued Grumet. 

The entirety of the BPC roundtable webinar can be viewed on BPC’s YouTube channel. To find out more about the BPC Academic Leaders Task Force, visit the BPC website

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