Contact Us

Institutional Communications
Bureau of Mines Building, Room 137
Laramie, WY 82071
Phone: (307) 766-2929

Find us on Facebook (Link opens a new window) Find us on Twitter (Link opens a new window)

UW Working Group Submits Report on Free Expression and Respectful Discourse

A working group appointed by University of Wyoming President Ed Seidel has submitted a report regarding freedom of expression, intellectual freedom and constructive dialogue at UW.

Chaired by faculty members Nevin Aiken, an associate professor in the School of Politics, Public Affairs and International Studies, and Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology visiting researcher Martha McCaughey, the working group recommends a number of actions to enhance UW’s commitment to freedom of expression and respectful discourse -- and ensure that the university remains a place where many ideas and perspectives are expressed, explored and debated.

“UW already has a strong culture of free expression and respectful dialogue that reflects Wyoming’s inspiring history of equality, independent thought and civic connection,” the report says. “These recommendations, therefore, are intended as nutrients for an already fertile ground.”

The report, which is available here, includes a proposed “Statement of the University of Wyoming Principles” regarding institutional neutrality; intellectual and academic freedom; freedom of expression; and civil discourse and constructive dialogue. Also included are recommendations to operationalize, communicate and practice those principles. Seidel says he is reviewing the report and will determine next steps in the fall semester.

In the meantime, members of the campus community and the public are invited to read the report and submit input by Sept. 8 by going here.

“I deeply appreciate the thoughtful work of the Freedom of Expression, Intellectual Freedom and Constructive Dialogue Working Group,” Seidel says. “This group included faculty, staff, administrators, students and others with a wide diversity of opinions and perspectives. It also sought input from a diverse mix of external stakeholders from across the state. The group’s report includes a strong statement on these important issues and a thorough list of recommendations for us to consider implementing as priorities and resources allow.”

The working group was appointed in December and met frequently throughout the spring semester. In addition to consulting with external stakeholders in Wyoming, it reviewed programs and policies at other universities; historical reports on freedom of expression and institutional neutrality in the nation; accreditation criteria; UW’s current regulation on academic freedom and statement on free speech; Wyoming’s Constitution; and the “Code of the West,” adopted as the state’s code of ethics in 2010.

The proposed statement of principles notes that the university plays a unique role by providing a neutral forum for the deliberation and debate of public issues.

“This adherence to impartiality reaffirms the intellectual freedom of all at UW to seek and receive information without restriction and enjoy unfettered access to all expression of ideas through which any side of a question, cause or movement may be explored,” the statement says.

It adds, “Academic freedom helps preserve a climate of ongoing inquiry at UW where ideas are openly shared and rigorously examined. The role of the university teacher is not to indoctrinate. Students are responsible for learning in their course of study material reflecting scholarly standards, understandings and expertise, including that which may challenge their existing beliefs. At the same time, instructors must take care not to present untested or controversial claims as settled truth without letting students take reasoned exception. In both teaching and scholarly endeavors, partisan interests -- whether those of university personnel or those of government, religious, corporate or political groups --should never supersede sound academic judgment, principles and procedures.”

Additionally, the proposed statement says UW “recognizes and respects the liberty of students, faculty and staff as private citizens to express their opinions and identities, including concerns they may have about public institutions and the larger society. At a public university, it is inevitable that the ideas and beliefs of different members of the UW community or visitors to campus will conflict with one another. UW does not shield individuals from the free expression of ideas and criticism, including that which community members may find uncomfortable, disagreeable or even deeply offensive. The expression of criticism must respect the legal right of others to express themselves without serving to obstruct, censor or otherwise interfere with the rights of others to hear those ideas.”

The proposed statement also acknowledges that: “Free expression has legal limitations, some examples of which include expression that is obscene or defamatory; constitutes a genuine threat or discriminatory harassment; incites imminent violence or other lawless action; unjustifiably invades privacy; interferes with the free expression rights of others; or otherwise stands in violation of the law. UW may reasonably place content-neutral limitations on the time, place and manner of expression to ensure the university’s ordinary educational, scholarly and administrative functioning. Nevertheless, these are narrow exceptions.”

The proposed statement concludes:

“The University of Wyoming strives to support and model a culture of respectful engagement in which even the most difficult or challenging of ideas can be expressed, received and contested with grace through the practice of civil discourse and constructive dialogue. In so doing, UW encourages people with diverse backgrounds and values to speak, write, live and learn together in a welcoming, inclusive and intellectually stimulating environment that celebrates free expression and intellectual and academic freedom. This reflects Wyoming’s spirit of equality and civic connection across difference, allowing students, faculty and staff to thrive as members of a vibrant university community where critical thinking, creativity, innovation and independent thought can flourish.”

In addition to Aiken and McCaughey, the Freedom of Expression, Intellectual Freedom and Constructive Dialogue Working Group included:

-- Vladimir Alvarado, a UW Faculty Senate member and professor of chemical engineering.

-- Christi Boggs, associate director of digital teaching and learning.

-- Brad Bonner, of Cody, a member of the UW Board of Trustees.

-- Allison Brown, president of the Associated Students of UW in 2022-23.

-- Kevin Carman, executive vice president and provost.

-- Stephen Feldman, a professor in the College of Law.

-- Casey Frome, an assistant lecturer in the Department of Management and Marketing.

-- Janice Grover, an associate librarian for libraries education and research services.

-- Zebadiah Hall, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion.

-- Mollie Hand, a UW Staff Senate member and manager of LeaRN Programs.

-- Jennifer Harmon, an associate professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences.

-- Tammy Heise, an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies.

-- Catherine Johnson, an assistant lecturer in LeaRN Programs.

-- Daniel Laughlin, a professor in the Department of Botany.

-- Ryan O’Neil, dean of students.

-- Gabe Saint, an undergraduate political science major from Douglas.

The working group also sought input from former state legislator Eli Bebout, of Riverton; Sara Burlingame, of Cheyenne, executive director of Wyoming Equality and a former legislator; Sandy Caldwell, executive director of the Wyoming Community College Commission; Cathy Connolly, a retired UW faculty member and former legislator; U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman; Karen Kemmerer, of Jackson, a former executive with AT&T and Lucent Technologies; Matt Micheli, a Cheyenne attorney and former Wyoming Republican Party chairman; Maggi Murdock, a former UW administrator and professor emerita; and Jen Sieve-Hicks, owner and executive editor of the Buffalo Bulletin.

Contact Us

Institutional Communications
Bureau of Mines Building, Room 137
Laramie, WY 82071
Phone: (307) 766-2929

Find us on Facebook (Link opens a new window) Find us on Twitter (Link opens a new window)