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Working Group to Assess SA, GSO Concerns on Free Speech
In response to resolutions passed last fall by Syracuse University’s Student Association and Graduate Student Organization, Chancellor Syverud has created a working group to consider revisions to the University’s Computer and Electronic Policy that will address concerns regarding free speech across campus.
The action was taken to address the student government groups’ belief that certain language in the current policy “is vague, overly broad and subjective, which restricts expression and stifles academic freedom by prohibiting the discussion of controversial yet important political, social and economic issues that form the basis of legitimate academic debate.”
David Rubin, professor of communications and dean emeritus of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, has accepted an appointment to lead the working group. In addition to Rubin, the group will be comprised of two students appointed by the Student Association, two students appointed by the Graduate Student Association, and one faculty and one staff member, both appointed by the University Senate. The working group will be charged with reviewing the issues raised in the resolutions and making recommendations to the Chancellor.
“I appreciate the thoughtful concerns raised by the Graduate Student Organization and the Student Association regarding the language in this policy,” says Chancellor Syverud. “I agree that there is no room for ambiguity when it comes to our institutional commitment to freedom of expression, and I am confident that this working group will help to ensure our policies fully reflect that commitment.”
“Wide open, robust debate is at the heart of the learning process,” says Rubin. “I am delighted to accept this assignment and look forward to working with the committee to craft a policy that fits the 21st century and supports the goals of our institution.”
In their resolutions, the student governing bodies have asked for more specific wording that is less restrictive of speech and more accurately reflects the University’s commitment to freedom of expression, with the goal of enhancing “academic freedom and the quality of education.”
“The Student Association advocates free speech,” says Boris Gresely, president of the Student Association. “A precise definition of harassment will encourage students to confront and engage challenging topics, while a broad definition endangers free speech rights. Clarification of the Syracuse University definition of harassment will protect our students and organizations; the resolutions, passed by the GSO and SA, will modify the policy in that manner.”
“Protecting free speech in a responsible manner is crucial at any institution of higher learning,” says Patrick Neary, president of the Graduate Student Organization. “Overly broad policies, such as the current policy defining online harassment, need to be pruned to ensure they do not impinge on protected speech. A well-defined, narrow policy will allow the university to curtail legitimate harassment without the threat of eliminating the kind of robust discussion necessary on our campus. The GSO and SA resolutions call for modifying the current policy to create just such a well-defined notion of harassment.”