Free Speech at CU Boulder
While CU Boulder’s support of individual rights dates back to the university’s origins, faculty and student free speech was largely restricted around the country until the mid-20th century. Before that time, public opinion dictated that the voices of students, professors and even university presidents should not extend beyond campus boundaries.
Those limitations gave way as the courts recognized that university faculty and other citizens enjoyed freedom of expression that protected their ability to speak on matters of public concern as private citizens. At the same time, students have freely made their voices heard through organized protests on politics, civil rights, campus issues and more. And that tradition dates back more than a century.
CU Boulder’s fifth president, George Norlin, is fondly remembered for his work as an advocate for the rights of others. In the early 1900s, Colorado’s Ku Klux Klan-affiliated governor threatened to take away state funding unless Norlin fired all Jewish and Catholic faculty. Norlin decided he would rather do without such support (and did so for one year) than compromise the university’s values. Every CU Boulder commencement ends with a reading of Norlin’s Charge, a speech he first read to the Class of 1935.
In recent years, CU Boulder has hosted speakers espousing a broad spectrum of positions and political views. The majority of the speakers are brought in through student programs and faculty-led lecture series. Past speakers include John Ashcroft, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ann Coulter, Angela Davis, Howard Dean, Rudy Giuliani, Karl Rove, Antonin Scalia, Bobby Seale, Edward Snowden (via videoconference), Sonia Sotomayor, and Milo Yiannopoulos. CU Boulder also hosted President Barack Obama three times in 2012 and a Republican presidential debate in 2015 that featured then-candidate Donald Trump.