University Policy on Academic Integrity and Freedom of Expression

October 22, 2004

The following statement from President Lee C. Bollinger reiterating the University’s policy on academic freedom was issued in response to news articles raising questions about the ability of students at Columbia and other universities to engage in a free inquiry of ideas in the classroom.

Recent news articles raising questions about the ability of students at Columbia and other universities to engage in the free inquiry of ideas in the classroom have prompted me to reiterate our policy on this issue.

Last spring, in a letter to the Columbia community, I articulated our firm commitment to academic freedom of speech and stated the University’s policy based on this principle. That policy was affirmed by a committee of faculty members I charged with reflecting on this important issue. Today, I would like to reaffirm our principles.

Columbia is fully committed to upholding academic integrity and freedom of expression. This means both that the University will not penalize faculty for statements made in public debate and that we are committed to a strong principle of academic freedom in teaching and research.

At the same time, we believe that the principle of academic freedom is not unlimited. It does not, for example, extend to protecting behavior in the classroom that threatens or intimidates students for expressing their viewpoints or that uses the classroom as a means of political indoctrination. In fact, these are not opposing but rather complementary values. Upholding both allows students and faculty to explore the full range of ideas and perspectives that academic freedom fosters.

Let me move from principles and policies, for the moment, to process.

Self-evaluation is central to our academic world. Like academicians everywhere, we at Columbia constantly review and assess everything we do, from the standards governing the conduct of our research to the policies affecting our student grades, faculty promotion and tenure. Our deans and chairs take seriously such self-evaluation and continually seek to improve the policies and practices within their schools and departments.

We are now in the midst of just such a review and refinement. I’ve asked Provost Alan Brinkley and Nicholas Dirks, vice president for the Arts and Sciences, to work with our deans and chairs to assess the adequacy of the grievance processes they have in place for their faculty and students, to modify these processes where appropriate, and to develop new ones where necessary. We expect to have the results of their work in the next few weeks.

Grievance procedures vary across disciplines and schools. They cover a wide variety of complaints, from grade disputes between students and faculty, to disputes among faculty over credit for research, to student complaints of the kind referred to in recent news articles. We want to make sure that when students or faculty have such grievances, they know where to go to lodge their complaints and that the adjudication processes available to them are fair, transparent and accessible; and, of course, consistent with our commitments to live by our fundamental values.

Specifically, these procedures ensure that students who feel they have experienced classroom threats or intimidation have a place where their complaints will be addressed. As always, if individual students are unsure of the procedures in their schools, deans and their staffs are available to provide this information.