Last week, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) gave Claremont McKenna College (CMC) a “green light” rating for free speech on campus, the highest level a college can achieve. CMC is the first college in California to receive this rating.
“To earn its green light rating, Claremont McKenna worked with the foundation to update its policies on disorderly conduct and internet usage,” according to FIRE’s statement. Only 38 other higher education institutions in the nation have received this award.
CMC’s green light award also comes after its decision to punish members of its student body who disrupted and prevented Heather MacDonald from speaking at its Athenaeum last year. It is the only member of the Claremont Colleges to punish those involved.
The other four undergraduate colleges of the Claremont University Consortium—Pomona College, Pitzer College, Scripps College and Harvey Mudd College—all received “yellow light” ratings from the Foundation. This rating means that the colleges have policies in place that can be used to restrict student and faculty freedom of expression and punish students for First Amendment protected speech.
Some students at the other Claremont Colleges feel that the institutions they attend should follow CMC’s lead. Brian Knapp, a sophomore at Pomona College, told the Independent that Pomona should match, or best CMC’s proven record for free speech on campus:
“Of course, we [Pomona] should try to emulate or exceed CMC in respect to free speech. Students of any background should never have to fear speaking their mind, but unfortunately a great number at college do for fear of being called out or shunned by their peers for less popular opinions. When free speech is undermined, students do not have the ability to learn from each other. Furthermore, when this is the case and people’s views are not challenged by others’ views (as will be the case in the real world), these folks often find it more difficult to engage in a civil discussion with people of opposing views once out of college.”
“Additionally, it builds character and allows one to obtain a broader worldview when listening to thoroughly and respectfully the opinions of others,” he added. “If the college is truly dedicated to inclusivity, free speech seems to be a no-brainer.”
CMC is also the only member of the Claremont Consortium to have adopted the “Chicago Statement”; which is according to FIRE, “the gold standard for university policy statements regarding freedom of expression at colleges and universities”.
The Chicago Statement from the University of Chicago was in part aimed to counter groups that wished to push the idea of “safe spaces” onto college campuses. It says in part that it “is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community”
The statement also offers support for allowing speakers of all ideologies to be allowed to speak on campus:
“Although members of the University community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed on campus, and to criticize and contest speakers who are invited to express their views on campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe”
CMC has been demonstrating its commitment to freedom of expression, and time will tell if the rest of the Claremont Colleges will follow its lead.