The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

HR’s Role in Balancing Free Speech and Inclusivity

Results of a recent survey of college and university presidents conducted by the American Council on Education (ACE) show that half of all presidents surveyed rely on their chief HR officer to weigh in when setting institutional policy related to campus inclusion and free speech. And 30 percent of presidents said they rely on HR when addressing active conflict around inclusion and free speech.

Would you know how to react if your president came calling on such matters?

In her session at this year’s CUPA-HR Annual Conference and Expo, Lorelle Espinosa of ACE offered some insight into what college presidents expect of their teams when addressing and managing the tensions that can arise when free speech intersects with the principles of diversity and inclusion on campus.

Here are some takeaways for HR:

  • Make professional development for staff and faculty a priority. More than 70 percent of presidents surveyed said they rely on training for faculty around constructive classroom dialogue and more than 60 percent said they rely on similar inclusivity-related training for staff to manage the tensions surrounding free speech and inclusivity.
  • Review your institution’s time, place and manner policies. Sixty-three percent of presidents surveyed said that reviewing/establishing institutional policies related to time, place and manner restrictions around free speech is of paramount importance. Human resources can use its expertise to review these policies to ensure their strength and to uncover any gaps or inconsistencies. HR can also play a role in ensuring that the institution has clear, accessible and legally defensible policies on posting of flyers and distribution of other materials on campus.
  • Know what rights your institution has around free speech. Do you know what constitutes free speech and what doesn’t? Where do an individual’s rights end and an institution’s rights begin? Read this overview from the current issue of CUPA-HR’s The Higher Education Workplace magazine.

By taking these proactive steps, your HR organization can stand at the ready to help university leaders navigate the sometimes murky waters of free speech on campus.

ACE has just released two new briefs highlighting issues around freedom of expression and campus inclusion – one on controversial speakers and one on hateful incidents on campus. Read the briefs here