Principles of Free Speech and Expression: At Xavier University
Xavier University, founded in 1831, was the first Catholic institution of higher learning in the Northwest Territory of the United States. It is the fourth oldest Jesuit university and the sixth oldest Catholic university in the United States. Rooted firmly in this Jesuit Catholic tradition, Xavier University understands and affirms that “the Catholic university participates in the total university life of our time, has the same functions as all other true universities and, in general, offers the same services to society.”1
A University is a community of higher education in which the intellectual life is nourished, truth is sought, knowledge is advanced, discussion is promoted, and service to humanity is valued. A university worthy of the name is characterized by rigorous examination of any or all questions; academic honesty; self-critical awareness of one’s own biases and presuppositions; openness to the ideas of others; respect for fellow members of the community; and the free expression of a broad diversity of viewpoints. As stated in the Faculty Handbook, “the right to free inquiry and to free and open discussion must be vigorously safeguarded within the University.”2
As a Catholic University, Xavier is committed to the search for the whole truth not only about nature, humanity, and the world, but also about God. Consistent with the definition of Catholic universities expressed in the Apostolic Constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Xavier University is “a community of scholars representing various branches of human knowledge and an academic institution in which Catholicism is vitally present and operative.”3 In seeking to fulfill its mission as both a university and a Catholic institution, Xavier provides regular opportunities for continuing reflection upon knowledge in the light of the Catholic faith.
As a Catholic University in the Jesuit tradition, Xavier highlights the liberal arts whose “mission is to educate each student intellectually, morally, and spiritually.”4 This mission embodies Xavier’s commitment to the education of the whole person, the promotion of the common good, and the service of others. Xavier’s distinctive Jesuit Catholic identity and mission to form a community of learning and scholarship is lived out when all members of Xavier’s community seek to “cultivate lives of reflection, compassion and informed action” in a “world that is increasingly diverse, complex and interdependent.”5
Xavier's distinctive Jesuit Catholic identity and mission inform and enhance free inquiry and engagement of ideas on our campus; they do not limit it. The nature and purpose of a university is to transmit and advance knowledge and the pursuit of truth through intellectual inquiry. Freedom of thought and freedom of speech form the foundation of this intellectual pursuit. As a Jesuit Catholic university, the intellectual life of Xavier “has no boundaries and no barriers” as it “draws knowledge and understanding from all the traditions” and adheres to the principle that the “whole world of knowledge and ideas must be open to the student; there must be no outlawed books or subjects.”6 This openness to knowledge in the pursuit of truth abhors censorship of ideas. Thought and speech suppression corrode the pillars upon which every university, including Xavier, is built. Although enmity or division might result from the discussion of controversial questions, Xavier University does not avoid such conversations; instead, it affirms the value of discussing challenging questions in an environment where diverse voices and perspectives can be heard and engaged, and members of the community are well-prepared to challenge or support those voices and perspectives.
Accordingly, we adopt the following principles:
1. Xavier University is committed to free inquiry and discussion and the free expression of ideas and opinions. Consequently, we reject attempts to prohibit speech or expression on the basis of content or viewpoint, even if the content of those views is disagreeable or offensive to some members of the University. Speech or expression includes symbolic speech and non-verbal conduct (e.g., silent marches, holding signs, wearing armbands, etc.).
2. Members of the University community are free to challenge and peacefully protest speakers and to criticize views expressed on campus; however, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to hear from speakers or to otherwise participate in a campus event.
3. Speech and expression may be restricted when it violates the law; incites violence against
individuals, groups, or property; violates the University’s policies against harassment and discrimination; falsely defames others; or unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests.
4. The University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the institution. Any such regulation is a narrow exception to the general principle of freedom of expression and may not be used to prevent or stifle free and open discussion of ideas, even displeasing or unpopular ones.
5. Xavier University is committed to fostering and supporting “an inclusive environment of open and free inquiry,”7 in which all members of the Xavier community are enabled and encouraged to participate fully in the life of the University with dignity and mutual respect. We affirm that the principle of free expression and our commitments to diversity, inclusion, and equity require each other in order to advance Xavier’s Jesuit Catholic mission.
6. Members of the University community are exhorted to observe high standards of integrity and mutual respect in discussion and debate. This commitment to integrity and mutual respect, however, is not meant to infringe upon the discussion of ideas that might be disagreeable or even offensive to some members of our community. Individual members of the Xavier community are encouraged to evaluate ideas and arguments, not by seeking to suppress speech or by engaging in ad hominem attacks, but by candidly and vigorously challenging the arguments and ideas that they oppose.
7. As a Jesuit Catholic educational institution, Xavier University recognizes its pedagogic responsibility to advance rational discourse. The University's commitment to the principles of free inquiry and free expression advances its educational mission, upholds its liberal arts tradition, and recognizes our shared responsibility to engage with one another in discourse, dialogue, and debate in service of this educational mission.
1 The Idea of a Catholic University, Land O’Lakes Statement (1967).Ex Corde Ecclesiae, 14. 4 Xavier University Mission Statement. 5 Ibid. 2 Xavier University Faculty Handbook (2020):10. 3
6 The Idea of a Catholic University, Land O’Lakes Statement (1967).Xavier University Mission Statement. 7
************Revised and unanimously approved by the Ignatian Campus Speech Initiative Principles Committee, May 3, 2022.