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Skidmore College

Skidmore affirms commitment to free expression

April 18, 2024

Recognizing this urgent moment for American higher education and our democracy, Skidmore College is joining 60 other college presidents of diverse institutions from across the country to advance higher education’s pivotal role in preparing students to be engaged citizens and to uphold free expression on campus. 

Through College Presidents for Civic Preparedness, a unique consortium designed by the presidents and convened by the Institute for Citizens & Scholars, participating presidents are dedicated to preparing the next generation of well-informed, productively engaged, and committed citizens; defending free expression, civil discourse, and critical inquiry as essential civic norms; and increasing thoughtful engagement and better understanding by students for the effective functioning of our democracy. 

The consortium, first announced with 15 members in August 2023, has grown significantly, demonstrating momentum for this movement. Skidmore announced in February that President Marc C. Conner had joined.

Participating presidents will take campus-specific and collective action, reflecting three shared Civic Commitments

  • Educating for democracy is central to our mission.
  • We will prepare our students for a vibrant, diverse, and contentious society.
  • We will protect and defend free inquiry. 

 College Presidents for Civic PreparednessTaken together, these fresh commitments embrace both free speech and diversity, two values often pitted against each other, by instead emphasizing meaningful engagement and inquiry with different voices and viewpoints. The commitments stress diversity as a strength of both American democracy and campus life and affirm the truth-seeking role of higher education through curiosity and inquiry. They also enable campus leaders to take substantive action to promote democratic engagement among students, with public accountability for progress through publication of an annual impact report. 

“In line with our liberal arts mission, Skidmore cherishes freedom of speech, thought, and expression. Diverse opinions, perspectives, and ideas provide opportunities for us to reflect, learn, and grow individually and as an institution. The College fully supports the constitutional rights of assembly and freedom of expression as bulwarks of our democratic process that protect us all.”
Marc C. Conner

Presidents are developing campus-specific programming to advance the Civic Commitments in 2024, including new courses, outside speakers, student orientations, presidential speeches, technology tools, and voter education initiatives. A complete listing appears on the consortium website. Skidmore will continue to advance community conversations in support of speech and expression. 

Most recently, as a continuation of its 2023 Speech and Expression on College Campuses Symposium, Skidmore hosted a three-day residency in March 2024 focusing on freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and academic freedom with Frederick M. Lawrence, the former president of Brandeis, who is now the 10th secretary and CEO of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. In addition to delivering a public lecture, “Free Speech on Campus in Challenging Times,” Lawrence met with students and faculty in several fora, including, most notably, a meeting with campus student activists. Lawrence brought this group together to learn to have discussions over difference and shared with them a framework for respectful disagreement that he calls “vigorous civility.” 

This summer, Skidmore will send faculty to the College Presidents for Civic Preparedness Faculty Institute. 

In addition to championing these commitments on their campuses, the presidents will undertake together and through the Institute a set of collective actions:

  • Meet regularly and confidentially for peer learning and the exchange of information, ideas, practices, and tools, including on such topics as the 2024 elections and student activism;
  • Help faculty engage effectively with free expression and civil discourse in the classroom by participating in the Faculty Institute on Dialogue Across Difference; and
  • Create and seize opportunities for shared advocacy and public outreach on civic preparedness in higher education.

“Higher education has a responsibility to provide students with critical civic skills and knowledge to participate effectively in our constitutional democracy,” said Rajiv Vinnakota, president of the Institute for Citizens & Scholars, a nonprofit that cultivates talent, ideas, and networks that develop young people as effective, lifelong citizens. “College campuses are among the most diverse spaces in our country, and college is an important time for students to develop the habits, practices, and norms to live in a multicultural and interconnected democracy. Doing so can create a ripple effect, making young people more optimistic and increasingly committed about their future and our nation.”  

College Presidents for Civic Preparedness has been supported by ECMC Foundation, Einhorn Collaborative, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, One8 Foundation, Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, Lumina Foundation, Charles Koch Foundation, and Teagle Foundation, with individual campuses providing support for their own related projects. 

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