Professors question Maine university system’s push to limit political activity
Some professors at Maine’s state universities are worried a new policy aimed at protecting the institutions’ nonprofit status by prohibiting most employees from speaking about controversial political issues could inhibit them from using their expertise to inform lawmakers, students and the public.
University of Maine System leadership decided to take a fresh look at its free speech and civility policies in the wake of 2016’s contentious presidential election. Concerned about recent protests, unrest and heated debates about how potentially divisive speech should be treated, student representatives asked the board to review the system’s rules to help campuses navigate free speech issues.
The system hadn’t amended its free speech and civility policies since 1974.
In March 2017, trustees adopted a new version of its free speech policy, which was met with little controversy or resistance. It stated, in part, that “civility and mutual respect will not be used to justify restricting the discussion or expression of ideas or speech that may be disagreeable or even offensive to some members of the University community. Free speech is not absolute, and one person’s claim to exercise his or her right to free speech may not be used to deny another person’s right to free speech.”
One year later, the system is weighing a second change, a new policy on “Institutional Authority on Political Matters,” which states that all legislative advocacy must be coordinated through the chancellor’s office, and only by certain high-level employees.
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