The Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate at its last meeting of the year on April 15 unanimously (24-0-0) passed “A Resolution Supporting Freedom of Expression,” urging the university to “respect and protect freedom of speech and freedom of expression at Tufts University, now and forever.”
Former TCU President Tomas Garcia and Senior Senator Jonathan Danzig submitted the resolution.
Danzig said the immediate motivation behind the resolution was as a result of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE) inclusion of Tufts on its list of worst schools in the country for free speech for the past few years. The most recent list was released a month ago, according to Garcia, a senior.
On its website, FIRE categorized Tufts as a “red light” school on their speech code rating system for “at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.” FIRE’s website lists excerpts from Tufts’ harassment policies and student handbooks that FIRE believes restrict students’ freedom of speech. It also identifies incidents in which FIRE believes Tufts restricted students’ freedom of speech, including an incident in 2006 in which a controversial anonymous submission satirizing race-based college admissions was printed in The Primary Source, Tufts’ journal of conservative thought.
“We felt that a very strong statement in favor of free speech would go a long way towards removing us from the list,” Danzig said.
The resolution urged University President Anthony Monaco, the Board of Trustees, the administration, the faculty and all branches of the TCU government to respect and protect freedom of speech and freedom of expression at Tufts.
Hate speech and other legal exceptions to free speech would still be prohibited under the resolution, according to Garcia.
After being submitted and processed by the Senate Rules Committee, the resolution entered a parliamentary discussion period, in which Garcia and Danzig presented the resolution before the Senate and opened up the floor to questions from other senators.
“The Senate as a whole responded favorably,” Danzig said. “This is an issue that people agree on in the back of their minds, but it’s very rarely put in such direct terms.”
“We wanted to make sure that this year’s student representation was on the record as supporting the freedom of expression when the university has been attacked in the past,” Garcia said.
Senator Stephen Ruggiero, a sophomore, stated that he particularly supported the phrasing in the resolution that resolved to respect equally “both popular and unpopular opinions.”
“Just because an opinion is unpopular doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be respected,” Ruggiero said. “People make a lot of unpopular decisions on campus … but I think it’s important that this resolution specifically stated that.”
“It’s something both Jon and I hold near and dear to our hearts,” Garcia said. “Tufts is a vibrant academic community … and we wanted to make a very clear statement to all the students at Tufts as well as the administration that any viewpoint on campus, no matter how unpopular, should be protected.”
“[Danzig and Garcia] did a good job specifically naming the people they want to look at this,” Ruggiero said. “Everyone from President Monaco down needs to respect what we’re doing here.”
Garcia expressed concern that, although he believes FIRE’s label is inaccurate, a prospective student deciding whether or not to attend Tufts might read the FIRE article and decide not to enroll.
“We’re hoping to portray an accurate representation of how discussion at Tufts actually transpires,” Garcia said. “We want this to be a message to anyone considering Tufts in the future to say this actually is a place of open and vibrant debate, where all viewpoints are treated equally.”
“Hopefully, no student will be dissuaded from coming to Tufts just because of [concerns about free speech],” he added.
Danzig feels the inclusion of the phrase “now and forever” is particularly important in conveying a message of free speech and expression to current and future members of the Tufts community.
“Tufts is and always will be, speaking to both current and prospective students, a place of intellectual diversity and a place where [different views] are allowed to be expressed,” Danzig said. “The unanimous passage of this resolution is my proudest achievement in my time in student government.”