Fall 2020 - Cornell Statement on Responsible Speech and Expression

Cornell University is committed to fundamental principles of academic freedom and rights of free expression. Freedoms to engage in research and scholarship, to teach and to learn, to express oneself and to be heard, and to assemble and to protest peacefully and lawfully, are essential to the function of the University as an educational institution. Responsible enjoyment and exercise of these rights includes respect for the rights of all.  Infringement upon the rights of others, including the rights to speak and to be heard, or interference with the peaceful and lawful use and enjoyment of University premises, facilities, and programs, violate this principle.  Though the necessity is rare, the University has long affirmed the President’s authority and duty to protect the community and maintain public order where imminent threats to health and safety require it.  However, any intervention by the President or the President’s designee in campus rights of expression and assembly shall be reported in a timely fashion to the community, with an explanation of the bases for the actions taken.
The Cornell community, including the University Assembly and other elected governance bodies, have a responsibility for protecting freedom of speech. Towards that end, the President or the President’s designee shall consult with the University Assembly, Faculty Senate, Student Assembly, Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, Employee Assembly, and other elected campus governance bodies on a regular basis to ensure that the community’s fundamental commitments to free expression and respect for others are safeguarded.
The University’s Statement of Core Values affirms a clear statement on free expression:
Free and Open Inquiry and Expression
We are a community whose very purpose is the pursuit of knowledge. We value free and open inquiry and expression—tenets that underlie academic freedom—even of ideas some may consider wrong or offensive. Inherent in this commitment is the corollary freedom to engage in reasoned opposition to messages to which one objects.
Outdoor picketing, marches, rallies, and other demonstrations are traditional and legitimate forms of self-expression and dissent on campus. In recognition of their importance to freedom of speech, no university permit is required for such outdoor activities for members of the Cornell community; however consultation with the university is encouraged to ensure the safety and protection of rights for all those involved.
Finally, the University faculty have proposed, and the University hereby endorses, the following:
Faculty Statement Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech and Expression:
For the purposes of these procedures, academic freedom is defined by the Statement on Academic Freedom and Responsibility adopted by the University Faculty on May 11, 1960, which provides:
Academic Freedom for the Faculty means: Freedom of expression in the classroom on matters relevant to the subject and the purpose of the course and of choice of methods in classroom teaching; from direction and restraint in scholarship, research, and creative expression and in the discussion and publication of the results thereof; to speak and write as a citizen without institutional censorship or discipline. . . [1]
Academic freedom is valued very highly at Cornell, and the University Faculty defends it tenaciously; nevertheless, the same University Faculty is disinclined to see the concept abused. Academic freedom does not imply immunity from prosecution for illegal acts of wrongdoing, nor does it provide license for faculty members to do whatever they choose.
Based on the protections afforded by academic freedom, speech and other expression occurring in the context of instruction or research will not be considered prohibited conduct under Policy 6.4 unless this speech or expression also meets one or both of the following criteria:
  • a reasonable person in the setting would find it to be abusive or humiliating toward a specific person or persons, or
  • it persists despite the reasonable objection of the person or persons targeted by the speech.
Generally speaking, employees have the right to communicate freely outside of the scope of their Cornell employment in their capacity as a private citizen. Such speech or expression generally will not be considered prohibited conduct under Policy 6.4 unless this speech or expression also meets one or both of the above bulleted criteria.
NOTE from Counsel: The above statement was developed for Cornell Policy 6.4 purposes.  There does not appear to be any other “formal” statement by the Cornell Faculty Senate regarding Academic Freedom of the Faculty. The shaded portions above could be redacted if the Senate prefers a statement less explicitly focused on Policy 6.4 issues.

[1]Ellipses indicating a redaction of the AAUP text are in the official Cornell faculty statement reproduced here.

**Please submit comments on the main Fall 2020 Proposed Amendments to the Campus Code of Conduct page.**