Freedom of Expression at Vanderbilt

Protecting freedom of expression through open forums and principled neutrality fundamentally supports our educational mission and empowers the entire Vanderbilt community.

A university must maintain a culture of open discourse.

A university's paramount mission is to provide the conditions for transformative education and pathbreaking research. To fulfill this mission, maintaining a culture of free expression and open discourse is essential.

Vanderbilt strives to foster an atmosphere in which students and faculty can explore and freely discuss even the most complex and challenging issues. We believe that a college campus must provide open forums for the rigorous and respectful exchange of civil dialogue—where all perspectives are valued, and where new ideas can be shared, tested and refined.

Our approach to freedom of expression rests on two pillars: preserving the essential role and integrity of open forums within our campus community; and, at an institutional level, practicing what we call principled neutrality—which means that Vanderbilt University remains neutral on political matters in order to leave space for varied opinions within our community to flourish. Vanderbilt's leadership refrains from taking a public stance on social issues, except in cases when the issues directly and significantly affect the functioning of the university in pursuit of its mission.

Adhering to the open forum pillar means creating opportunities for faculty, staff and students to respectfully exchange ideas. We further offer training and resources to prepare community members to approach such conversations with an open mind and an appetite to learn. At Vanderbilt, we do not shy away from spirited intellectual discourse.

This vital exchange can be stifled when academic leaders take political positions while speaking on behalf of their entire university community—signaling that one point of view is preferable to another and potentially alienating those who have opposing perspectives. We believe that it is a time-honored role of a university to encourage debates, not settle them. Principled neutrality is restraint in the service of freedom of expression.

Maintaining a stance of principled neutrality should not be confused with a lack of values. A university must always proceed from clear values that are preconditions for fulfilling its mission, and without imposing unrelated opinions on its university community.

Protecting freedom of expression through open forums and principled neutrality fundamentally supports our educational mission and empowers the entire Vanderbilt community.

By maintaining principled neutrality and resisting the call of the political fray, universities can safeguard their unique and vital function—and help address America’s free speech problem in the process.

Daniel Diermeier
Chancellor, Vanderbilt University