The beginning of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution is printed on the wall in Coppee Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 12. The First Amendment outlines the freedoms of expression granted by the United States government. Lehigh's Faculty Senate discussed writing official principles of free expression at Lehigh with President Joseph Helble at their first meeting. (Sam Barney-Gibbs/B&W Staff)

Adopting, expanding free expression principles at Lehigh


Lehigh President Joseph Helble made a guest appearance at the first Faculty Senate meeting last month to propose the adoption of principles encouraging and respecting free expression on campus.

“I haven’t seen any movements to shut down free expression,” Helble said. “But we don’t have any written principles about respecting free expression.”

In asking the faculty to decide how to best support Lehigh’s diverse range of views, Helble referenced the Chicago Principles — a set of principles written by The University of Chicago and adopted by colleges across the country — as guidelines to promote free expression on campus. 

He asked the Senate to make a decision based on three choices: to do nothing — in alignment with the sentiment that Lehigh doesn’t need a written statement of free expression, adopt the Chicago Principles with an added preamble relating to Lehigh, or move forward with the process of having Lehigh write and adopt its own set of principles via a new committee.

This committee would be entirely new and include stakeholders beyond faculty members.

“One of the real questions is, ‘Have we already covered this in other spaces?’ and ‘Do we need to add additional language around this or have we made our values and principles clear already?’” English professor Jenna Lay said as a representative for the College of Arts and Sciences. “The work that this group will do delves into that question.” 

This committee would post a first draft online to receive feedback from the community and revise it to finalize a version of Lehigh’s free expression principles. 

Faculty members responded to the proposal with questions and feedback, such as the reasoning for free expression at Lehigh being addressed now.  

Helbe said the idea wasn’t a response to controversy, but a way to establish that students can openly express themselves if anything comes up in the future: a proactive plan instead of a reactive one.

“If open, honest and respectful discussion on challenging subjects can not occur on university campuses, where can it?” Helble said in a video to the Lehigh community. “Our goal through this work will be to provide a common understanding.”

International relations professor Kevin Narizny vocalized support for the set of principles. 

He said students have voiced fears about discussing important political issues because they fear being pushed out of their peer group or being judged poorly by professors for saying things on the opposite side of the political spectrum.  

President Helble said a substantial part of the Lehigh community is the ability to intentionally learn from one another. 

“Without having a statement of principles (on free expression), we aren’t fully encouraging students to push boundaries,” Helble said in the meeting.

In relation to getting feedback from the Lehigh student body, Student Senate President Victoria Drzymala said Student Senate represents a wide variety of students but not everyone. 

“I think the Student Senate is a good place to start in terms of getting student feedback, but if this is something that goes through, it may be beneficial to open it up to some forums,” Drzymala said.

The Faculty Senate voiced feedback by referencing principles of an equitable community and examining the history of free expression at Lehigh, as well.

“Whether (students) are speaking in their classroom, clubs or friend groups, they are communicating with one another and with faculty and staff all the time,” Lay said. “So, it’s really crucial that we get students’ perspectives.”  

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  1. In case you needed any more evidence that Helble is on the Kremlin payroll, the article mentions no carve-outs for hate speech and disinformation, which are NOT protected speech. They are akin to yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, “Health Department” in a crowded Rathbone, or “We’re out of Juul pods” in a crowded sorority. Judging by recent decisions by the Board of Trustees, I wouldn’t be surprised if they adopt this radical far-right outlook.

    Let’s call this proposed “commitment” what it really is: a full-fledged endorsement of racist, misogynistic, homophonic, and xenophobic rhetoric used to incite hate and violence. I myself was violently misgendered by a TA in office hours, and the barista at Saxby’s wouldn’t even take my report. LU culture needs to change, and I will be gravely disappointed if my alma mater adopts the same mindset that allowed Putin puppets and MAGA-heads to steal an election and incite an insurrection. This proposal flies in the face of all DEI initiatives that bolster the community spirit and create a welcoming environment for all.

    Slava Ukraini!!!

  2. robert davenport on

    If this article was a car, it would be in neutral. It might be going on a future trip that the occupants are discussing. Oliver C’s comment seems to describe a car that is moving toward if not actually falling off a cliff.

    Oliver C’s words indicate to me why “free expression principles” need to be defined by Lehigh. Individuals have there own personal definitions and in tune with todays society those definitions may change daily to suit individual needs, not those of my Alma Mater in its task of educating.

    Looking forward to the future as the Packard gets in gear.

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