Statement on Freedom of Inquiry and Expression

February 21, 2024

Dear Furman Community,

Today we affirm Furman’s longstanding commitment to the principles of free expression and academic freedom by making public our Statement on Freedom of Inquiry and Expression.

This statement, which you can find on our Vision, Mission, Values and Free Inquiry & Expression website, clearly and definitively expresses Furman’s steadfast resolve to ensuring an environment in which diverse views and perspectives can be heard without interference.

On Feb. 7, an overwhelming majority of the faculty voted to endorse the Statement on Freedom of Inquiry and Expression. This past weekend, the Board of Trustees approved it unanimously.

Our commitment to free inquiry and to welcoming varied voices has long been articulated in our values statement. However, universities around the country, including Furman, have been criticized for limiting speech or for tolerating only certain perspectives. As our On Discourse initiative to promote free, open, healthy, and constructive dialogue took shape, it became clear that a statement articulating our priorities and responsibilities was needed.

Free speech enriches our community, but it also exposes us to ideas with which we may deeply disagree. Among other goals, On Discourse will teach us how to engage people with differing ideas, to look for common ground, and to understand that disagreement is not disapproval. Freedom of expression, of course, does not license anyone to say anything they want in any manner they choose. We must follow the law and existing university policies and regulations. We must also conduct ourselves with decency and respect. Healthy dialogue requires free expression, but it also requires members of the community to treat everyone with dignity.

The statement lives online, but it will only truly come to life if each of us adopts it, commits to engaging in free expression responsibly, and defends the ability of others to do the same.

In the face of extremely challenging times, Furman students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends have conducted themselves admirably. We want students to speak up and speak out, and we want faculty to explore and teach difficult topics. Our Statement on Freedom of Inquiry and Expression is the rock in our foundation upon which discourse, and progress, will be built.

I would like to thank Cynthia King, associate dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence and professor of Communication Studies, and Brent Nelsen, the Jane Fishburne Hipp Professor of Politics and International Affairs and director of the Tocqueville Center for the Study of Democracy and Society, for guiding the development of On Discourse and the Statement on Freedom of Inquiry and Expression.

Our statement represents an ideal, and we are likely to fall short on occasion. Rather than condemn, let us all commit ourselves to supporting each other as we grow in our ability to engage in healthy dialogue.


Elizabeth Davis