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President Randall Creates Free Speech Task Force to ‘strengthen campus climate’

The task force will report back to U President Taylor Randall to help create a campus where everyone’s voices are welcomed and respected.
Xiangyao Tang
University of Utah President Taylor Randall speaks at a press conference with the Daily Utah Chronicle in the John R. Park Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


On Jan. 8, University of Utah President Taylor Randall announced the creation of the Viewpoint Representation and Expression Task Force, a group of faculty, student, staff and trustee representatives tasked with creating a report reviewing and making recommendations to strengthen campus climate to ensure all voices and perspectives are welcomed and respected.

Randall asked the task force to expand upon former President David P. Gardner’s vision of a campus dedicated to welcoming and respecting all perspectives and voices. In the letter, Randall included a quote from the late Gardner, who died on Jan. 2, 2024, at age 90 from a “lingering, undisclosed illness.”

“The University is not engaged in making ideas safe for students,” Randall quoted Gardner saying. “It is engaged in making students safe for ideas,” the letter read. “Thus, it permits the freest expression of views before students, trusting to their good sense in passing judgment on these views. Only in this way can it best serve American democracy.”

The report process is two-fold. First, the task force will provide Randall with the results of survey research and focus groups about the current campus climate after 9 months. Within 18 months, the task force will present a final report including recommendations on how to strengthen campus climate to ensure all voices and perspectives of students, faculty, staff and community are welcomed and respected.

Randall told the team that the report must include the following:

  • “Results and conclusions about our current campus climate based on survey research and focus groups with students, faculty and staff.
  • A review and evaluation of policies and practices related to viewpoint diversity, with particular attention to the Code of Faculty Rights and Responsibilities, the Student Rights and Responsibilities policy and the Ethical Standards and Code of Conduct for staff – including recommendations for ensuring current policies are being followed and recommendations for updating or revising policies and practices.
  • Recommendations on future research the university should undertake on this issue.
  • Ongoing recommendations on a set of speakers, dialogues, forums and debates that model best behavior and assistance on implementing these ideas.”

Jason Perry, vice president for government relations and director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics will chair the group and provide regular updates on the task force’s progress.

Including Perry, there are 13 members of the task force, including Dean of the College of Humanities Hollis Robbins, and Paul Cassell, professor of law

In an interview with the Chronicle, Robbins said freedom of speech has been an ongoing issue not only at the U, but at institutions across the country. Robbins has also written academic works that explore freedom of speech on college campuses.

Robbins added that the deans have been in conversation with the president and provost — asking if students feel empowered to talk about controversial issues, if faculty should keep themselves from speaking on controversial issues and how universities can ensure civil discourse about controversial topics on campus.

“The question to ask for anybody who’s going to be an activist on campus,” she said, “[is] what are you asking for regarding speech? Are you asking for speech? Are you asking for there to be no speech?”

These are questions the task force plans to answer within the next 18 months.

Additionally, Cassell said he has been speaking on the topic of viewpoint diversity for a few years on campus.

“I think it’s critically important for our students and for our credibility in the community that we have all points of view representing the University of Utah,” he said. 

Cassell said the task force will be “data-driven,” determining if those on campus feel free to speak their mind, and if any viewpoints are underrepresented or suppressed. 

He added that the task force is not in reaction to the recent freedom of speech issues on campus, but referred to the ongoing issues of viewpoint diversity throughout the country.

“I view the task force as having a sort of broader conception and broader mission, which is just looking into viewpoint diversity at the University of Utah,” he said.

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About the Contributors
Libbey Hanson
Libbey Hanson, News Writer
(she/her) Libbey is a second-year graduate student in the MPA program studying public policy and administration. She is most interested in environmental policy and social justice issues. You can usually find her in the mountains hiking and skiing or reading and writing at a local coffee shop.
Xiangyao Tang
Xiangyao Tang, Photo Director
Axe is a photographer and the photo director of the Daily Utah Chronicle. He is from China and is a senior majoring in computer science and minoring in digital photography. Axe joined the Chronicle in August of 2021. In addition to his position at the Chrony, he is also a photo intern for University of Utah Athletics. When he's not writing code, you will find him rock climbing, camping, skiing or hiking with his camera.

Comments (3)

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  • N

    Name McNameJan 16, 2024 at 11:49 am

    Lame attempt at virtue signaling from Randal. Holding a transphobic event on campus is free speech but protesting said event is not. This ‘taskforce’ will only be used to attack ‘free speech’ not protect it. Sad appeal to the bigoted ideologues at the detriment to our actual students.

    • J

      John HedbergJan 16, 2024 at 1:04 pm

      As an actual intersectional undergraduate here at the U, are you sure you’re not just projecting your own suppressive tendencies to marginalize anyone who disagrees with your own narcissistic feelings, and to heck with everyone else, because Mecha physically attempted to shut down trans voices they disagreed with at the YAF event, which was clearly transphobic behavior targeting marginalized voices on campus.

      You sound like Mecha: target innocent people by labeling them with your own hateful bigotry, and then shout and stamp your feet about how everyone else has oppressed you for reining in your own oppressive behavior after you clearly told every adult in the room that you were in dire need of a diaper change~ 😂😋

  • J

    John HedbergJan 14, 2024 at 1:40 pm

    Thank you, President Randall~!! 🎄👨‍🎓👩‍🎓🗽