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Letter from the Chancellor

May 31, 2017

At the University of Missouri, free expression is essential to our missions of teaching, research, and service. University rules enshrine protection for faculty and students alike, stressing the importance of “an educational environment that promotes free discussion, inquiry and expression by students, both inside the course and out.” [CRR 200.015]

At its core, the University’s position on free expression is simple: “Institutions of higher education are established and maintained for the common good, which depends upon the free search for truth and its free expression.” [CRR 310.010]

When conflicts arise, however, resolving debates about free expression is not always so straightforward. If two groups wish to host lectures in the same room at the same time, either one must go elsewhere, or neither speaker can be understood. When campus speech straddles the border between protected expression and unlawful harassment, someone must distinguish one from the other. Rules about the time, place, and manner of campus speech are necessary to a well-governed university.

To help clarify and to improve Mizzou’s rules — and to reaffirm the University’s commitment to free speech — in January 2016 the Chancellor and the Faculty Council chair appointed together the Ad Hoc Joint Committee on Protests, Public Spaces, Free Speech, and the Press. The Committee’s diligent efforts resulted in Mizzou’s “Commitment to Free Expression,” adopted in Spring 2016, as well as the more detailed rules effective June 1, 2017. On behalf of the University faculty and administration, we thank the members of the Committee for their work, their engagement with the community, and their production of well-crafted rules we hope will serve as a model for campuses nationwide.

At this Free Expression site, you will find the Commitment to Free Expression, the full text of the rules effective June 1, 2017, and a variety of materials designed to explain the rules and the values underlying them.

Mizzou’s rules honor the First Amendment as well as the University’s broader commitment to the open exchange of ideas. They also protect the functions of the University and suggest ways that disputes concerning free expression can constructively be resolved.

University policies should further Mizzou’s mission of uncovering knowledge and transmitting it to the next generation. Particularly when rules regulate speech, we must strive to use a light touch, and we must remain open to amending rules to better promote the University’s values. The rules in force today are not carved in stone, and we welcome suggestions for improvement.

We thank everyone who has participated in the robust debate about how we can best protect free expression at Mizzou. By considering diverse views, consulting with experts, and exhibiting patience and goodwill, we have achieved results in which Mizzou can take pride and that contribute to a national conversation about campus speech.

Dr. Garnett Stokes signature
Garnett S. Stokes
Interim Chancellor & Provost

Ben Trachtenberg's signature
Ben Trachtenberg
Chair, MU Faculty Council