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Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry to hold community listening session on role of free speech at U.Va.

Inspired by other colleges, the committee aims to draft a statement concerning the role of free speech and debate

<p>The goal of the session is to explore “the role that free expression and free inquiry play in U.Va.’s academic enterprise and how they shape engagement with the ideas of others.”&nbsp;</p>

The goal of the session is to explore “the role that free expression and free inquiry play in U.Va.’s academic enterprise and how they shape engagement with the ideas of others.” 

The Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry will host an open listening session for University and Charlottesville community members Monday from noon to 1:30 p.m. The goal of the session is to explore “the role that free expression and free inquiry play in U.Va.’s academic enterprise and how they shape engagement with the ideas of others.” 

The listening session is meant to give the community the chance to offer input on what free speech at the University means today. Graduate Batten student Mazzen Shalaby, the student member of the committee, hopes for as much input as possible from the community and is dedicated to being an active listener at the session. 

“The goal of this session isn’t for us as committee members to engage in any sort of discussion or dialogue … but rather to simply listen to the various thoughts from the community and to provide a space for people to share their direct thoughts on the broader topic, and more specifically how it applies to U.Va.,” Shalaby wrote in an email to The Cavalier Daily. 

The Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry was instituted in February following calls for the University to reaffirm its commitment to accepting and facilitating robust free speech and debate. Some community members have asked the University to join the nearly 80 colleges and universities that have signed onto the University of Chicago’s Statement on Principles of Free Expression. The Chicago Statement, released in 2014, has since been called the “gold standard” among institutions who wish to show their dedication to free speech and expression, and colleges and universities have continued to sign on to or adapt the statement as a blueprint for their own. 

Earlier this year, University President Jim Ryan addressed the culture of free speech and debate at the University following several students displaying signs on their Lawn room doors containing messages such as “F—k UVA.” After consulting with University Counsel Timothy Heaphy, who will also serve as counsel to the committee, Ryan announced that the University could not enforce the removal of such signs. Beginning in the fall semester, however, the Lawn room policy will restrict signage to a 1.5 ft by 2 ft pin board. 

In March, the University also removed a Lawn room sign which Housing and Residence Life claimed advocated violence. The sign displayed an image of the Rotunda, surrounded by flames, with the words “Burn It All Down” written below in addition to a grim reaper holding a scythe and a police belt with the initials “UPD.”

Dean of Students Allen Groves said that Ryan made clear to committee members that the end goal of forming the committee was to create a summary report on the state of free speech on Grounds. 

“Although the University of Chicago’s statement on this topic has been much discussed and copied in the past few years, President Ryan has charged the committee to draft a statement that reflects our own values and ideals of free inquiry and expression,” Groves said in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily. 

Members of the committee were chosen by Ryan and Provost Liz Magill, with the current plan that the committee will take what it learns at the listening session to draft a statement for consideration by Ryan, Magill and others by the end of summer.

The committee is chaired by Leslie Kendrick, vice dean at the School of Law and director at the Center for First Amendment Law. Members include Mary Kate Cary, practitioner senior fellow at the Miller Center and former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush; Rita Dove, former U.S. Poet Laureate and Commonwealth Professor of English and; Frederick Schauer, David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law, among others. 

Both Groves and Shalaby want to see student contributions to the listening session, with Groves expressing his hope that students attend on Monday. Shalaby said that student attendance will be integral to the function of the committee.

“I really hope we get student participation in this,” Shalaby said. “I’m pushing hard for this not just to be a statement that a committee writes and the students disagree with, but rather a set of shared principles that we can all agree to strive for, and that we can work to build shared norms based on.”

Currently, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education rates the University as a “green light” institution. Green light institutions are those colleges and universities whose policies “nominally protect free speech”, according to the FIRE website

Interested students, faculty, and community members can register for the event to receive the call-in number and passcode. Callers can be placed into a queue if they wish to speak or can simply listen to the session. More information about the committee can be found here.

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