Texas Tech University

Sumner Named to New National Task Force on Campus Free Speech Expression

Amanda Castro-Crist

November 19, 2020

Launched by the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Academic Leaders Task Force on Campus Free Expression will identify practices, programs and policies that foster robust campus cultures.

Carol A. Sumner, chief diversity officer and vice president of Texas Tech University's Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, has been named to a new national task force that will focus on free speech expression in higher education. The Academic Leaders Task Force on Campus Free Expression has been launched by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) to identify practices, programs and policies that foster robust campus cultures.

The task force – led by former Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, CEO of Challenge Seattle, and former Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, Middlebury College executive in residence – includes a diverse group of university presidents, professors, administrators and civic leaders with distinguished records of creating strategies to strengthen open exchange and tolerance at a wide range of higher education institutions.

"Free speech is the hallmark, the bedrock of who we are in terms of culture; it's the thought that we don't have to agree to share our perspective," Sumner said. "It is through our ability to converse and share our perspectives that we truly learn. You cannot empathize with others if you are not exposed to experiences that are different from your own or you do not have the opportunity to share your own experiences."

Sumner said she first learned about the task force after her involvement in other BPC events on free speech and discourse on racial issues in higher education. Colleges and universities are searching for ways to create meaningful free-expression strategies that suit a changing higher education landscape while staying true to their institution's unique mission and their commitments to diversity and inclusion. Those who wish to create such an approach can lack a reliable roadmap for doing so.

"One of the goals is to create a resource kit or manual that includes certain steps on ways to look at free speech and how to ensure it is a practice that continues on our campuses," Sumner said.

The task force will look at several issues including:

  • The adoption of a free-expression statement that connects the value of free expression to a school's history and mission;
  • Approaches that campus presidents and their leadership teams can follow to ensure wide campus input and buy-in from faculty, students, staff and other campus constituencies to these values;
  • Procedures that ensure that free expression informs and harmonizes with other policies, including first-year student orientation materials, student handbooks, faculty handbooks, IT policies, tabling policies, harassment policies, etc;
  • Guidelines for college presidents and their leadership teams for when it is appropriate for leadership to comment on contemporary political and social issues and expressing the value of institutional neutrality on other issues.

"Higher education institutions have a special role in America's democracy, preparing the next generation for civic leadership and principled debate," said BPC President Jason Grumet. "Our democracy cannot succeed if we accept the false premise that free expression is somehow at odds with cultural diversity, inclusion and individual well-being."

The other members of the task force are:

  • Ronald A. Crutcher, president, University of Richmond
  • Daniel Cullen, professor of political science, Rhodes College
  • Ross Irwin, COO, BridgeUSA
  • William A. Keyes IV, president, Institute for Responsible Citizenship
  • Walter M. Kimbrough, president, Dillard University
  • Linda A. Livingstone, president, Baylor University
  • Wallace Loh, immediate past president, University of Maryland
  • John A. Nunes, president, Concordia College-New York
  • Lori S. White, president, DePauw University

"This is going to bring together leaders from across education who have the scale and scope of experiences that allow us to see the topic of free speech from different perspectives," Sumner said. "My goal is to contribute as much as I get out of the experience. It is through our shared knowledge that we can help create a set of resources that will benefit not just those on our campuses, but those who are in the communities where our institutions are located."

BPC will host the first panel event on the task force from noon to 1 p.m. Dec. 1. Those interested in attending may RSVP online.