Balancing Free Speech and Sensitivity

Date Released: 12 November 2015

The issue of whether college campuses have gone too far in trying to create a safe and welcoming climate for all its students has recently been in the news. Stories about faculty and students being punished for expressing (or suppressing) views that others may perceive as insensitive, derogatory, prejudicial, or offensive has resulted in claims that 'political correctness' has gone too far and that universities are neglecting that other great virtue of academic freedom and thus have deprived its students of the ability to learn how to cope with ideas that they may find disagreeable.

This latter view has been boosted by the statements of well-known comedians like Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Bill Maher that they will no longer perform on college campuses because they feel that they no longer have the freedom to use humor as social commentary because of restrictions due to the risk of causing offense.

How can universities best balance the needs of free speech and academic freedom while pursuing its other goal creating a safe and welcoming environment for all its members? This article gives the background to this controversy and discusses some of the complexities of this issue, while a student writing in our campus newspaper The Observer shares its opinion of the climate for speech here, saying that "The intimidation that surrounds speaking your mind at Case Western Reserve University is very real, and many students can attest to this."

At the next UCITE session, Lou Stark (Vice President for Student Affairs) and Peter Poulos (University Attorney) will lead a discussion on how CWRU is dealing with this issue that is proving to be challenging for almost all universities.

Join us for that discussion on Thursday, November 12, from 12:00-1:00 pm in the Herrick Room, which is on the ground floor of the Allen Building (at the corner of Euclid and Adelbert).

Pizza lunch and sodas will be provided at this session. To help us estimate the amount to order, please let us know if you plan to attend this session by replying to this email or sending a message to