By Nikayla Goddard, January 11 2020 —
The University of Calgary published its Statement of Free Expression on Dec. 13 — a statement that allows all organizations and individuals on UCalgary campuses to exercise their right to free expression.
The statement defines free expression as “the freedom to investigate, comment, listen, gather, challenge and critique,” welcoming organizations and individuals to bring in debates, opinions, speakers or host events that “are perceived to be unwelcome, controversial, offensive, unwise, immoral, or objectionable.” The Statement claims that it is up to individuals, not institutions, to determine their opinions and contest any ideas they oppose.
The university does put a limit on free expression in that it is, reasonably, subject to the law, in addition to university “policies and procedures related to the functioning of the University. Thus, we may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the institution,” the statement says.
The creation of this statement follows the provincial government’s request to the 26 post-secondary institutions of Alberta to draft a policy on free expression. Consultation for the statement happened between September and November, after which it was submitted to the provincial government on Nov. 13, and approved on Dec. 4. It was finally approved by the Board of Governors on Dec. 13.
The Free Expression Committee that drafted and published the statement included Chair and General Counsel Karen Jackson, Provost and vice-president academic Dru Marshall, associate vice-president research Robert Thompson, Senior Director of the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning Natasha Kenny, associate vice president strategic communications Philippe Reicher, Students’ Union president Jessica Revington and vice-president external of the Graduate Students’ Association Marcela Lopes.
In the Statement’s press release, Marshall writes that “Free expression is a critical element of UCalgary’s mandate as a public comprehensive academic and research university.”
The committee was created in June to consult the campus and then, based off of their findings, drafted the statement to align with the Chicago Principles, which are an outline of principles to guide the way freedom of expression is used in American post-secondary institutions.
“The introduction of the university’s statement on free expression formalizes what the Students’ Union has always believed — that universities should be places where free, open and respectful discussions can take place,” said Revington. “Students were consulted during the creation of the statement and the published statement reflects student feedback around prioritizing equitable, diverse and respectful dialogue.”