Protect Free Speech at Yale

Dear President Salovey and Members of the Yale Corporation,

Yale was once a national leader on free speech in adopting the Woodward Report as its policy in 1975. The Woodward Report celebrates “the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.”

And yet, recent events have caused students, faculty, and alumni to question Yale’s commitment to those principles. The university’s reputation has diminished as a result. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) gives Yale a “yellow light” rating, indicating policies that, “by virtue of vague wording, can too easily be used to restrict protected expression.” In a court filing last year, the university compounded those fears, calling the Woodward Report “not a set of contractual promises.” 

Unfortunately, the very perception that free speech is not fully protected and encouraged contributes to an atmosphere of self-censorship on campus. In the 2021 College Free Speech Rankings, Yale ranked near the bottom at 131st (out of 159 schools) for student comfort in expressing their thoughts in writing, in class, and among their peers and professors. According to that same study, 83% of Yale students have felt that they could not express their opinion on a subject because of how students, a professor, or the administration would respond. Only 28% say that it’s extremely or very clear that the university’s administration protects free speech on campus. 

As students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends of the university, we call on Yale to reaffirm the Woodward Report with more than lip service. We ask that the university: 

  • Implement the policy’s call for “education in the value of free expression at Yale” through various means, including but not limited to, instituting regular programs educating students about their speech rights during orientation or other first-year experience programs and distributing a printed copy of the policy to every student. 
  • Affirm in a written statement distributed to all members of the university community that the Woodward Report remains Yale’s governing and binding free speech policy. 
  • Add a safe harbor clause to the university’s speech policies, such as the following language, based on one proposed in The Wall Street Journal: “The university will summarily dismiss any allegation that an individual or group has violated a university policy if the allegation is based solely on the individual’s or group’s protected expression.”
  • Join 83 institutions of higher education in endorsing the Chicago principles.
  • Reform university policies to earn a “green light” rating from FIRE. 
  • Collect serious data on the speech climate. An annual and transparent survey of students and faculty would provide vital information that Yale leadership can use to make informed decisions to improve the state of free speech on campus.

Creating a culture of free speech will not happen overnight, but these are some initial steps that will set the university on a better path. Yale can be a leader on these issues once again. Let’s make it the best it can be. 

We look forward to your response. 

Yours sincerely,

Fight for Yale’s Future

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