Geoffrey R. Stone and Will Creeley were two-thirds right in their Sept. 27 Sunday Opinion commentary, “Restoring free speech on campus.” They were right to denounce academic censorship. They also were right to praise the University of Chicago’s excellent free expression statement as a model for other institutions. But they were wrong to leave it at that.
When universities struggle with how to properly address harassment of women and minority groups, they do not need another lecture on the First Amendment. Rather, they need clear guidance on how to resolve hostile environments consistent with constitutional guarantees. The solution has to begin with university leaders using their freedom of speech to educate about mutual respect, inclusion and civility. To be effective, they need to be clear, firm, specific and detailed.
The problem with the University of California’s recently rejected “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” is not that it would have banned all derogatory language, as Mr. Stone and Mr. Creeley suggested. Rather, it lacked specificity about how the school would address the challenges facing students at the university (especially anti-Semitic incidents) while protecting academic freedom.
Public universities should use clearly defined terms to explain how they will protect free expression while complying with federal anti-discrimination law. The right answer is not to pit one set of rights against another. University leaders must secure all of them.
Kenneth L. Marcus, Washington
The writer is president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.