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Presidential Update on Freedom of Expression 12.15.2021

seal of the university and email header for president

Dear Tiger Family,

Since I joined the DePauw family, I have said on a number of occasions, including as part of my inauguration address, that DePauw can best develop leaders the world needs by fostering two important values that should work in concert with one another: freedom of expression and a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. This month’s message is to update you on our commitment to the values of freedom of expression on DePauw’s campus.

As you may know, I am a member of the Academic Leaders Task Force on Campus Free Expression, which on Nov. 30 issued a report to help campuses embrace freedom of expression in this complex era. I am especially pleased that the task force adopted, as its first tenet, the notion that, “at a time when some doubt that commitments to free expression are compatible with commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion, leaders should make the case that freedom of expression is ultimately a liberalizing and inclusive force.”

Our task force made the point that the decline of public confidence in higher education is related to the erosion of a campus culture of free expression and open inquiry and that presidents and their leadership teams, boards of trustees, faculty and staff members, student affairs professionals and athletic coaches all have a critical role to play in supporting campus free expression.

Several articles (Inside Higher Ed, Higher Education Dive and University Business) were written about the report, underscoring its importance as a resource to assist higher education in reinforcing a commitment to campus free expression. DePauw’s own story is here. DePauw is mentioned prominently in the external articles, fueling our endeavor to become a national model for freedom of expression. 

To that end, DePauw is taking several important first steps:  

  • I have asked several campus leaders to review the sections of the report related to faculty, student affairs and coaches and to provide an outline to me by Jan. 17 as to what we are, can and should be doing to support the task force recommendations.

  • The president’s cabinet and trustees will be engaged in similar discussions and a review of the respective sections of the report related to their work.

  • We are continuing a collaborative process to develop a campus Freedom of Expression statement, with a goal of finalizing it during the spring term. This statement will articulate our campus values regarding freedom of expression and when completed will be publicly available on our website and for us to share with current members of our campus community, prospective students, alumni and visitors to our campus. Many other universities have adopted such statements, and two examples are included in the task force report.

  • The task force underscores the importance of these statements being developed through campus collaboration and consultation, an approach we already were taking. The Faculty Student Academic Life committee and members of the Board of Trustees have provided important input into our draft statement. On Dec. 15 we are hosting a campus conversation and inviting other members of the DePauw community to discuss the Task Force report and to share their feedback on the draft statement.  

  • Additional meetings are being scheduled with small groups of faculty and staff members and students throughout January to provide additional opportunities to discuss the report and draft statement.  

  • We will also be instituting a module on free expression during new student orientation beginning with this Fall among other initiatives.

Related to this issue, of course, is the September release by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education of survey findings that ranked DePauw last among the 154 institutions it surveyed out of 4000 colleges and universities across the country. Although that number represents less than four percent of higher education institutions in the U.S. and did not include many of our peers, my priority is to create an environment where all of our students are comfortable expressing their viewpoints and listening to those of others.

I initiated a meeting with two FIRE representatives to discuss this ranking: Mary Zoeller, senior program officer for policy reform, and Sean Stevens, senior research fellow for polling and analytics. We discussed DePauw’s work to update the campus Freedom of Expression statement and our work on the skills necessary to engage in healthy debate within our community. Zoeller and Stevens offered to provide the raw data collected from our campus and to make suggestions for how we could better establish a culture of free expression on campus. They also offered to review various campus policies and practices to identify, from their perspective, any that did not align with the values of freedom of expression. I shared an overview of the work that we are doing to update our statement and was heartened to learn that they advise universities to engage in a thorough process – which we are doing – and deep debate to ensure the statement reflects institutional mission and values and has buy-in from across the university.

We will share the statement with our community once it is finalized and you have my assurance that freedom of expression will remain a deeply held DePauw value.


Lori S. White