By Gauri Mangala, Assistant News Editor
The workgroup charged by President Janet Morgan Riggs last fall to “develop a statement of institutional philosophy that will provide context and guidance for decision-making” relating to freedom of expression has released a draft of that statement and will host a town hall meeting Thursday, February 1, at 11:30 a.m. in the College Union Building ballroom. The meeting will provide an “open forum for questions about the process, the philosophy, and our next steps,” according to an email Riggs sent to the campus community last week.
Dr. Jennifer Bloomquist, Associate Provost and Chair of the Freedom of Expression Workgroup, said that as it carried out the first component of Riggs’ charge—“to lead campus discussions about freedom of expression, with the goal of educating our campus community on this topic as well as soliciting input for an institutional philosophy”—the workgroup heard the desire to hold an open, campus-wide forum to discuss the issue.
“[W]e realized that a number of students were interested in an all-campus forum to discuss some of the issues involved in adopting an institutional philosophy,” Bloomquist said. “This is likely to be a faculty concern as well.”
Much conversation and debate around this issue stems from the college’s decision last April to allow Robert Spencer, Director of Jihad Watch, to give a speech entitled “The Political Ramifications of Islamic Fundamentalism” at an event sponsored by Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). Many students and alumni believe Spencer promulgated hate speech and called for the event’s cancellation, but the college allowed the event to move forward and hosted a counter speaker, Dr. Todd Green, Associate Professor of Religion at Luther College, to share an alternate view on the subject.
While Riggs defended the college’s response to the situation last August, noting that the college followed guidelines for handling controversial speakers released subsequently by the Southern Poverty Law Center, she also emphasized the need to develop an “affirmative statement related to freedom of expression.”
Over the course of the fall semester, the committee met with dozens of students and student organizations, faculty, and the Board of Trustees to gather feedback to incorporate as they worked to draft the statement of institutional philosophy, from which further policy may be developed. The purpose of the town hall is to give the campus community an opportunity to weigh in on the statement and the process used to develop it.View Fullscreen
“Members of the workgroup are hoping to answer whatever questions might still remain. We will also discuss what the next steps are on the way to adopting the philosophy,” Bloomquist said.
Feedback is also being collected through a Google Form that will remain live until February 15. After that date, Bloomquist said that the workgroup will take suggestions or comments into consideration as they develop the final version of the philosophy. From there, Student Senate, the faculty, and the Board of Trustees will be invited to vote to officially adopt the philosophy.
“We are dedicated to making this process transparent and inclusive and welcome additional feedback about the draft that we shared with the College,” said Bloomquist. “Once the comment period is over, it is our hope that we can submit the final version first to the Student Senate for a vote. If that group agrees to adopt the philosophy, we will ask the faculty to vote on it and then the [B]oard of [T]rustees.”