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Statements from President Crow

Statement from ASU President Michael M. Crow on free speech, civil discourse and student conduct

November 20, 2019

Dear ASU Community:

Some recent events and responses to those events cause me to write today to remind you of the values that bind the ASU community when it comes to free speech.

As stated in our charter, ASU is measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed. We also take fundamental responsibility for the overall health of the communities we serve. 

ASU has an opportunity to be a model for the rest of society. We can disagree without being disrespectful. We can share thoughts and ideas without repressing the thoughts and ideas of others. We can speak and behave in ways that serve to inform and enlighten without threatening or intimidating others. We can and should learn from perspectives different from our own. And we should embrace the opportunity we have to do this in a safe environment here at the university, free from hostility and fear. ASU staff, including police, are here to support students and promote a safe environment where the free exchange of ideas can take place.
The present nature of the national public discourse has given rise to a range of insidious activities across the country orchestrated by national organizations whose intent is to provoke, incite, agitate or inflame on college campuses and elsewhere. Such activities manifest in various forms but all are intended to create an environment of fear and intimidation. Our nation’s college campuses are frequent targets of such activity and ASU is no exception. 
To be clear, ASU condemns behaviors and actions that threaten or intimidate any individual or group of individuals on the basis of race, color, religion, age, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, disability, veteran status, or any other particular status. 

At the same time, as a public university, we advance our charter within the framework of state and federal policy, including the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides the right to free speech. ASU is committed to free, robust and uninhibited sharing of ideas among all members of the university community and we strive to provide an environment that fosters the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression. 

The university does not condone actions by individuals or groups to prevent others from exercising their First Amendment rights and will take appropriate actions against those who do. This includes, per our Student Code of Conduct , conduct that is endangering, threatening or causing physical harm to any member of the university community or to oneself, causing reasonable apprehension of such harm or engaging in conduct or communications that a reasonable person would interpret as a serious expression of intent to harm; initiating, causing or contributing to any false report; and failing to comply with directions of university officials or agents, including law enforcement or security officers. Standards for professional conduct for faculty members and academic professionals to preserve intellectual freedom are outlined in policy here.

I am proud that ASU has been noted as an exemplar when it comes to our commitment to free speech. Since 2011, ASU has received the “green light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education indicating ASU policies “do not seriously imperil speech.” The green light rating is the highest from FIRE and ASU is currently one of only 38 institutions in the country to earn it. In June 2019, ASU was also cited by the Heterodox Academy as one of 10 institutions in the U.S. that is “seriously committed to civil and diverse debate.”

The university does have expectations that our community will exercise their right to free speech in a nonthreatening manner. As noted in 2018 when ASU adopted the Chicago Statement of Freedom of Expression:

“The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish. The university may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the university. In addition, the university may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the university.”

I appreciate everyone upholding the values that make ASU a place that invites civil dialogue and debate and where thoughts and ideas can be shared in an environment free from threat and intimidation.

If you have any questions about free speech at ASU, please do not hesitate to contact me.