(New York)– A set of recommendations recently adopted by Williams College represents a sound approach to free speech and inclusion on college campuses, PEN America said in a statement today.

“We applaud Williams College for giving thoughtful attention to how to address issues of inclusion without impairing a climate for free expression and inquiry on campus,” said Jonathan Friedman, project director for campus free speech at PEN America. “While the committee did not formally adopt the Chicago Principles, we read its report to affirm an unshakeable dedication to precepts of academic freedom and protection for speech, while going beyond that to reflect how these values can be robustly defended in the context of the College’s principled commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion. In our own work, we have supported the Chicago Principles, but also driven further to explain how unstinting protections for campus speech can be maintained alongside diligent efforts to eradicate bigotry and foster a campus environment that is truly open to all students. We have also recognized the need for institutions to develop their own policies through deliberations that engage students, faculty, administrators, and staff and yield results that enjoy a sense of ownership across the campus community. Williams has modeled such an approach.”

“This is a well-formulated document which offers solid recommendations for future policies and their implementation. We are gratified that our work proved useful to the Committee and hope that these new Williams guidelines provide a solid foundation for the firm defense of free speech and open discourse in the years to come.”

The recommendations are the result of an “Ad Hoc Committee on Inquiry and Inclusion” appointed by Williams President Maud Mandel in November 2018 in the wake of disagreement among students and faculty over whether the institution should adopt the “Chicago Principles,” a statement on free expression developed by the University of Chicago that has been adopted by more than 60 U.S. universities. The Williams College committee was charged with putting forth “a set of speaker invitation guidelines” that would demonstrate the college’s “full commitment to both inquiry and inclusion.” The committee’s final report fulfills this charge by drawing on the work of numerous individuals and organizations, including the American Association of University Professors and PEN America’s Principles on Campus Free Speech.

PEN America has previously emphasized that the drive toward a more inclusive and equal campus should not be pitted against robust protections for free speech, and that colleges and universities must balance these dual obligations. Our positions are detailed in our previous reports, including Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America (2019), and And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion, and Free Speech at U.S. Universities (2016).


Contact: Suzanne Trimel, PEN America Media Consultant, [email protected]

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. http://www.pen.org