Columbia Adopts Institutional Neutrality, Governance Resolution

In a 68-0 vote, Columbia’s Academic Senate adopted a resolution “Reconfirming our Commitment to the Principles of Academic Freedom and Shared Governance.” The Senate resolved:

Therefore, be it resolved that the Columbia University Senate is committed to the following principles of academic freedom and shared governance:

  1. Academic activities at Columbia are subject to review set by normal institutional processes in accordance with best professional practice; and
  2. Faculty speech and expression, including in the press and via social media, are subject to the protections and restrictions laid out in the Affirmative Statement §440, including “the right to speak, to study, research, to teach, and to express their own views” and the obligation to “allow others in the community to do the same”, except in cases of genuine threat of harassment, unjustifiable invasion of individual privacy, or false defamation; and
  3. The University and its leaders should refrain from taking political positions in their institutional capacity, either as explicit statements or as the basis of policy, except in the rare case when the University has a compelling institutional interest, such as a legal obligation, that requires it to do so; and
  4. Both principles of academic freedom and obligations of institutional stewardship permit inquiry into whether the University’s corporate activities remain compatible with “paramount social values”FN2; and,
  5. University policy in general should arise from mechanisms of shared governance, and should not be set by, or in deference to, entities external to the institution or those mechanisms; and,
  6. Matters of university policy that touch on or may benefit from areas of academic expertise should be informed by that expertise, and consultative bodies should be appointed with deference to the University’s strengths in faculty expertise and knowledge; and,
  7. The University Senate, as the representative body of all University constituencies and the statutory policy-making body of the University concerning matters of academic freedom as provided by in the University Statutes §23(c), has an historic and vital role to play in convening and fostering further discussion, articulation, and/or ratification of principles around academic freedom and the rights and responsibilities that obtain to it.
FN2: In the words of the 1967 Kalven Report.

Columbia’s senate details the debate and discussion surrounding the adoption here.

In the Senate minutes, one proponent of the resolution explained academic freedom as both creating rights and responsibilities:

Sen. Applegate commented on the context of the resolution. He said he had been involved in these issues in the Senate for over a decade. They had also been much in the news lately, and he has been asked by reporters at the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal what academic freedom is.

Of the many possible answers to this question, he preferred to focus on the need for a tolerant, respectful culture that is needed to make academic freedom work. That includes a responsibility to be careful about how he expresses his ideas, the obligation to be a respectful listener, and the ability to respectfully
disagree, and to understand that someone who attacks his ideas is not attacking him as a person.

Under conditions like these, academic freedom can play the crucial role it needs to in an educational institution.