Dear Members of the Barnard Community,
As one of the most prominent institutions of higher education in the world, devoted to the intellectual leadership of women and other marginalized communities, we have an obligation to support and encourage dialogue and debate on difficult and uncomfortable issues. To that end, after a series of discussions and planning across the last academic year, last Thursday Provost Bell and I held the first meeting of the Faculty Committee on Free Expression and charged them with examining the concepts of academic freedom and freedom of expression and what both imply for scholarship, research, and teaching on Barnard’s campus.
The committee will bring evidence-based pedagogical practices to bear in developing guidelines that support our shared mission to build an inclusive community where honest and open discourse and debate can occur; where all voices can be listened to, and where new ideas and better ways of thinking about the problems that challenge our world can evolve from the diversity of perspectives, expertise and experience engaged.
It has become common for freedom of expression and inclusivity to be discussed as competing principles and people often see them as contradictory. We see this exercise as a unique opportunity for individuals from a range of departments and programs to work on connecting inclusivity to freedom of expression in the classroom and in their scholarly circles. The best ideas occur when people feel like they can speak candidly, ask questions, voice concerns and make mistakes within a supportive academic environment that takes into account people’s diverse perspectives and lived experiences. There will be multiple opportunities for faculty, students, staff, and alums to provide input to the committee in the weeks and months ahead.
This work has never been more urgent as we strive, at Barnard, to make the classroom a “brave” space rather than a “safe'' space - a place where heated and honest debate and dialogue on difficult topics can take shape. In line with this approach to learning, we are asking the Committee to make specific recommendations - based on relevant scholarship - on, for example, the use of slurs in the classroom. The committee will also provide guidance on academic freedom as it intersects with the campus more broadly to include invited speakers, social media, protests and current events.
Through scholarship and teaching that involves discussion and disagreement, our thinking and practices evolve. In the coming months, Barnard’s committee on free expression will continue and advance this significant work.
We look forward to updating the campus on this important process early in the Spring semester and throughout the academic year.
Sian Leah Beilock, President
Linda A. Bell, Provost