Ivy League university creates committee to defend free speech in classroom

Freedom of speech isn’t going to be a thing of the past at the University of Pennsylvania if the Ivy’s new Committee on Open Expression has anything to do about it.

The Committee on Open Expression will work with the school’s Undergraduate Assembly to better address free speech at UPenn by gathering opinions from students about their ability to freely discuss ideas in the classroom. The committee will then publish their findings in the Penn Course Review, a website similar Rate My Professor but exclusive to the university.

In a recent Daily Pennsylvanian article, Social Justice Committee Director Jane Meyer said that the committee is currently in the stages of letting students know they exist and “[is] here to heed their complaints regarding infringement upon open and free expression.”

“If we see a concerning trend arise amongst these complaints, we will take steps to examine possible solutions,” she said.

The committee is tasked with "monitoring the communication processes to prevent conflicts that might emerge from failure of communication, recommending policies and procedures for improvement of all levels of communication, investigating alleged infringements of the right of open expression of any member or members of the University community, advising administrative officers where appropriate, and participating in evaluation and resolution of conflicts that may arise from incidents or disturbances on campus,” according to its mission statement.

“Penn Course Review will provide useful information,” Stephanos Bibas, a UPenn law professor and chair of the committee, told the DP. “When students pick their classes, they understand what they’re getting into, and if there is a particular problem with a particular professor, the student will know how the professor treats this topic.”

"I shouldn’t be afraid to put some of the controversial topics out there," Bibas said. "And I have to create the environment for students to talk about all kinds of issues on the table without thinking they’re being penalized because they take up an unpopular position.”

While UPenn is working to protect the First Amendment rights of students, Campus Reform recently reported that the University of Michigan has begun the Inclusive Language Campaign, a project that uses school funds to teach students that words can be hurtful.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @ChrisNuelle