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Ivy League university moves to prioritize 'free expression' months after students heckled conservative pundit

Cornell University will announce plans to feature “free expression and academic freedom” as its theme for the 2023-2024 academic year on Monday, dealing another blow to censorship on college campuses.

The preliminary announcement came Friday, months after students heckled conservative speaker Ann Coulter, a Cornell alumna, at a November 2022 event by blasting music, blowing whistles and more, the university’s newspaper, The Cornell Review, reported at the time.

Cornell President Martha E. Pollack is expected to announce the theme, encouraging students to “engage with these ideas, and in civil discourse about them, through a wide range of scholarly and creative events and activities, from lectures to community book reads to artistic exhibitions and performances,” according to Friday’s announcement.

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Cornell University's West Campus.

Cornell University’s West Campus. (iStock)

Pollack called the initiative “critical,” per the report, arguing that the university’s must focus on its mission to “think deeply about freedom of expression and the challenges that result from assaults on it, which today come from both ends of the political spectrum.”

“Learning from difference, learning to engage with difference and learning to communicate across difference are key parts of a Cornell education. Free expression and academic freedom are the bedrock not just of the university, but of democracy,” she said.

The university will reportedly launch a website dedicated to the theme this fall, detailing the corresponding goals and events aimed at furthering free expression and academic freedom on its multiple campuses.

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Cornell University sign

Cornell University sign (Yiming Chen/Getty Images)

“Early planning anticipates reading groups on free expression, debates with invited speakers modeling respectful dialogue, and exhibitions that may span art, film and fashion,” the announcement reads, continuing later with, “the programming aims to offer students, faculty and staff opportunities to further develop the fluency and skills necessary for democratic participation, such as active listening, leading controversial discussions, leading effective advocacy and managing responses to controversial interactions.”

The announcement also highlights the themes as “core parts” of the institution’s “identity” and “founding.” Cornell also adopted “free and open inquiry and expression – even of ideas some may consider wrong or offensive” in its 2019 outline of core values and, according to the release from Friday, adopted a policy statement two years later, affirming a free speech commitment.

The announcement comes after Pollack struck down a Student Assembly resolution to precede potentially offensive or triggering class discussions with trigger warnings earlier this month, citing the move “would infringe on our core commitment to academic freedom and freedom of inquiry” in conflict with the institution’s goals.

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Martha Pollack, president of Cornell University, Daniel Huttenlocher, dean of Cornell Tech and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg attend a dedication ceremony to mark the opening of the new campus of Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island, September 13, 2017 in New York City.

Martha Pollack, president of Cornell University, Daniel Huttenlocher, dean of Cornell Tech and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg attend a dedication ceremony to mark the opening of the new campus of Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island, September 13, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Pollack, in a joint rejection with provost Michael I. Kotlikoff, said the resolution would potentially curb free speech by restricting faculty members’ “fundamental right” to determine what curriculum to teach.

Pollack also urged the importance of free speech on campus after the Coulter incident in November, urging students to listen to as many perspectives as they can, including those they disagree with.

“Don’t avoid people whose viewpoints you think are wrong. Don’t try to shout them down. Hear them out. Ask them questions. Put in the effort to understand their point of view,” she said, according to The Cornell Review.

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Pollack also pledged to pursue punishment for the hecklers and said they would be referred to the Office of Student Conduct at the time.

Cornell University did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.

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