University President Geoffrey S. Mearns sees an essential connection between freedom of expression and inclusive excellence.
“Freedom of expression enriches our individual perspectives, our understanding of each other, and our appreciation of the world,” said Mearns. “As a public university, we have a special responsibility to maintain an environment that nurtures this fundamental right.”
Over five months, the Freedom of Expression Committee — formed by Mearns and led by Dr. Paaige Turner, Dean of the College of Communication, Information, and Media — examined policies that support and protect freedom of expression on the Ball State campus.
Dr. Marsha McGriff, associate vice president for inclusive excellence, served as vice chair of the committee, whose 14 members worked to assess how Ball State could affirm freedom of expression as an essential part of the University’s mission. They participated in First Amendment-focused educational sessions, reviewed dozens of relevant internal policies, and researched more than 100 policies and statements from other universities.
The goal, described by Mearns, was to “ensure that we are all accountable for protecting the free expression rights of our students, faculty, staff, and campus visitors.”
The committee issued a summation of their work in a Statement on Rights and Responsibilities, which was approved by the Board of Trustees in January.
Affirming its importance, the Statement on Rights and Responsibilities is now included in the University Faculty and Professional Personnel Handbook, other staff handbooks, and the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities.
The statement guarantees that all members of the campus community are given “the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.”
Acknowledging that opinions, at times, will lead to conflicts, the statement continues: “It is not the proper role of our University, however, to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome. …”
At the same time, the statement affirms, “Our University greatly values civility, and all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect. But concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, irrespective of how offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.”
The Statement on Rights and Responsibilities further asserts that “fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of our University’s educational mission.”
At its conclusion, the statement circles back to Ball State’s commitment to inclusive excellence, “which encompasses encouraging and rewarding diversity of thought, innovation, and creativity.
It is our hope that, as we engage in free expression, we will learn to be comfortable in the dissidence that opposing views can often evoke,
To ensure this statement is understood by all members of the campus community, the Board of Trustees also endorsed a campus engagement campaign to educate and celebrate freedom of expression. This includes development of educational sessions, training curriculum, “and a set of communication skill competencies to better facilitate difficult conversations related to these principles.”
Board of Trustees Chair Renae Conley, ’80 MBA ’82, called the statement an important and unifying step for Ball State’s commitment to both inclusive excellence and continuous learning.
“Freedom of expression is about creating an environment where everyone feels welcome to participate, to share thoughts and ideas, and to listen to and respect the thoughts and ideas of others,” said Conley.
It’s a conviction echoed in the Statement on Rights and Responsibilities, which affirms: “Our University endeavors to maintain a culture and community that will inspire our members to pursue knowledge with rigor and curiosity, to speak with care, and to work so that even the quietest or most underrepresented voices among us are heard.”