Cornell joins nationwide free-expression initiative

Cornell is among 13 higher-education institutions across the nation that have joined the Citizens & Scholars Campus Call for Free Expression, a commitment by a diverse group of college presidents to spotlight the principles of critical inquiry and civic discourse on their campuses.

The initiative, which will include activities focused on free expression that collectively amplify higher education’s role in preparing young people to be empowered citizens in a democratic society, launched Aug. 15.

“It is critical to our mission as a university to think deeply about freedom of expression and the challenges that result from assaults on it, which today come from both ends of the political spectrum,” President Martha E. Pollack said. “Learning from difference, learning to engage with difference and learning to communicate across difference are key parts of a Cornell education.

“Free expression and academic freedom,” she said, “are the bedrock not just of the university, but of democracy.”

The Campus Call is a project of College Presidents for Civic Preparedness, a new initiative convened by the Institute for Citizens & Scholars. It brings together college presidents who are committed to addressing the challenge of ensuring today’s young people are well-informed, productively engaged and committed citizens.

In the spring, Pollack announced a universitywide theme for the 2023–24 academic year: “The Indispensable Condition: Freedom of Expression at Cornell.” Students, faculty and staff will have the chance this year to come together and engage with topics of free expression and academic freedom through scholarly and creative events and activities, including reading groups, debates among invited speakers who model civil discourse, and exhibitions and performances that span art, film and fashion.

Leaders of the Campus Call for Free Expression share a commitment to the principles of free expression; model relevant behaviors, skills and practices; and aim to develop students who:

  • pursue knowledge beyond their comfort zone, challenging existing beliefs and assumptions;
  • reach informed decisions based on evidence and reasoned analysis;
  • develop a deeper understanding of self and one’s own values while potentially gaining respect, empathy and appreciation for those with differing values and views;
  • feel a sense of civic responsibility, advocate for positive change and contribute meaningfully to their community; and
  • express ideas freely but recognize that doing so doesn’t guarantee approval or immunity from consequences.

The overall Campus Call initiative is funded by a grant to Citizen & Scholars from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with individual campuses providing support for their own related projects.     

Other participating institutions are Benedict College, Claremont McKenna College, DePauw University, Duke University, James Madison University, Rollins College, Rutgers University, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Richmond, Wellesley College, Wesleyan University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Media Contact

Rebecca Valli