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Free Speech and Academic Freedom

The Faculty Senate takes the issues of free speech and academic freedom very seriously. We strive for a campus atmosphere that simultaneously allows for a robust exchange of ideas and for the inclusion of the widest variety of people. We believe that faculty have the right to pursue research and to teach wherever the requirements of their fields of study necessitate. We believe that the entire university community should be able to discuss ideas and issues freely. We also believe that many marginalized groups, who have historically been excluded from academic conversations, can be silenced or made to feel unsafe under the rubric of “free speech.”  Negotiating these different principles is a complex task.

Free Speech and White Nationalism

The Faculty Senate has passed a resolution condemning white supremacists and their messages of bigotry.  We support the campus’s diversity efforts and encourage deeper engagement with them.

Starting in December, a white nationalist group called the Traditionalist Worker Party began painting the Rock with “White Pride” sentiments. The Faculty Senate issued a statement condemning the messages and raising the issues of free speech vs campus safety. In February, the founder of the TWP made plans to speak on the University campus. This incident led to the creation of a Free Speech at UT page which contains a specific Q&A  from the administration addressing the event as well as background links. Updates will be made to this page as new information is available.

The Faculty Senate helped sponsor a vigil, United at the Rock against Hate:

WBIR news story on the vigil.

There are also a series of upcoming events, linked on the university’s Q&A page at the bottom.

Play it Out

Play it Out

Learn about PLAY it OUT, a one-semester pilot program initiated by the Faculty Senate that will use socially engaged performance pieces to model civil and inclusive social interactions.

White Pride Messages on the Rock

Statement from Faculty Senate President


History Department Symposium on Intellectual Freedom at UT

Click here for the event flyer

UT’s Department of History will host a symposium Monday, April 10, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the College of Law Auditorium, Room 132, exploring the history and future of intellectual autonomy on college campuses. It is free and open to the public.

The question of universities’ intellectual autonomy has been the subject of conversation and controversy in recent years. Panelists will examine historic and current topics including the McCarthy era, the prospects for secular religious studies, intelligent design in science classrooms, the relationship between academic freedom and artistic expression, the role of the American Association of University Professors, and the role of students in advocating free speech on campus.

The panelists are:

  • Bruce Wheeler, professor emeritus of history
  • Charles Maland, film studies department head
  • Rosalind I. J. Hackett, religious studies department head
  • Beauvais Lyons, Chancellor’s Professor in the School of Art
  • Ed Caudill, professor of journalism and electronic media
  • Joan Heminway, Rick Rose Distinguished Professor of Law
  • Mary McAlpin, professor of modern foreign languages and literatures


Max Matherne (865-974-5421,; Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,


Senate Diversity and Inclusion Task Force Forum on Diversity and Free Speech

The Senate Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion sponsored a Forum on Diversity and Free Speech on October 31,2016.  The program of the forum can be found here.  It includes a copy of the PEN American principles on free speech on campus.

American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Statements and Positions

The following are links to AAUP positions, and opinions of AAUP counsel, as well as summaries of legal cases, all relevant to the free speech and academic freedom of students and faculty. Please take a look at these in preparation for the Free Speech Forum to be held on Oct 31. These documents provide background information and bring into focus the multiple complexities involved in protecting free speech, maintaining the university as a context for exploring ideas, and fostering respect as the basis for inclusion.

1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure:

Academic freedom and First Amendment:

Amicus briefs of cases regarding employee free speech:

Academic freedom and professorial speech:

Academic freedom and electronic communications:

Academic freedom of students and professors and political discrimination:

University of Tennessee Policies and Procedures Related to Free Speech/Academic Freedom

Hilltopics: Campus Policies and Procedures

See especially the following sections:

  • Anti-Hazing
  • Freedom of Assembly and Demonstration
  • Incidents of Bias
  • Literature Distribution
  • Non-Discrimination
  • Use of University Property & Use for Free Expression Activities

Student Code of Conduct

10 Principles of Civility and Community


Selected On-line Resources and Articles:

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

New York Times article about FIRE, August 1, 2016

Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression, University of Chicago

Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Education article about University of Chicago Letter

Eric Heinz, “19 Arguments for Hate Speech Bans – and Against Them”

AAUP Statement of Trigger Warnings, August 2014

Erika Price, “I Use Trigger Warnings in My Classes – Here’s Why”

“And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion and Freedom” PEN America Report, October 17, 2016

Morton Shapiro, “I’m Northwestern President: Here’s Why Safe Spaces for Students are Important”

Cameron Okeke, “I’m a black UChicago graduate. Safe spaces got me through college.”

Emmitt Rensin, “The smug style in American liberalism.”

Sophie Downs, “Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces and Free Speech, Too”

Nathan Heller, The Big Uneasy, What’s roiling the liberal-arts Campus?”

On the Media, September 2, 2016 has three stories on this subject: