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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Interview | Jeswald Salacuse

In preparation for the Daily's weekly radio show this weekend, we sat down with Task Force on Freedom of Expression Chair Jeswald Salacuse. University President Lawrence Bacow charged the task force in January with proposing "university-wide policy language" on dealing with free speech and harassment.

The task force emerged last month from a series of meetings with community members to publicize its Draft Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Inquiry, and asked the greater Tufts community for feedback on this preliminary copy. Salacuse, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, told us about the response he has heard to the draft and how his views differ from the president's on First Amendment rights at Tufts.

The following is a partial transcript. To hear more of the interview, listen to this week's edition of Tufts Daily Radio at 11 a.m. on Sunday or log onto


Giovanni Russonello: [Jud-ging by the e-mails you have received in response to the draft declaration], are people more in support of keeping speech more limited in terms of guaranteeing that there's less harassment, or are they more interested in keeping free speech open?


Jeswald Salacuse: It's hard to say … I think they understand that it is a difficult balance. This is not an easy problem, and I think everybody appreciated that … One side said we should simply adopt the First Amendment, and that was really a minority — a very small minority. Others said we don't even think this is necessary, the task force wasn't necessary. But I think the vast majority of comments were trying to be helpful, understanding that the problem is not easy and helping us figure out where that line is. I think there was a sense that people ought not to be unjustly harassed and intimidated. I think there was a general acceptance of that from all campuses …


GR: When you mention the [minority that] wanted to adopt the First Amendment, it's something that Larry Bacow has said — that we should be a school that operates under the First Amendment — by his own volition … Do you disagree that we should follow the First Amendment absolutely first and foremost?


JS: I think I do, I think I do on that. I think our first and foremost goal here is education. That's our goal, that's our mission. If we don't educate here, then we are not achieving our purpose … The First Amendment, or freedom of expression, is essential to carry on that educational mission. But if the freedom of expression is used in such a way as to obstruct that educational mission, then I think our educational mission has to prevail.


GR: When President Bacow issued his charge to the task force, he mentioned wanting a policy recommendation. To you does policy mean binding law — school legislation — or does it mean simply a statement of principles?


JS: It's a statement of principles. We have no authority to legislate. That's for the university authorities; that's for the Board of Trustees, the president and the various administrators. We are simply making a recommendation.

And I think a statement of principles can influence people. We in international law have something called soft law … These are the declarations made by various international groups, and we see over time that they influence the views of the international community, that these are the views of the way the international community feels about certain things, like [the] environment. And this so-called soft law — these so called declarations — have clearly oriented and shaped the views of countries and states with regard to issues such as [the] environment and human rights and so forth.

And I think the same thing [applies] here, that we've talked to a lot of people, a lot of members of this community, and we are trying to get a sense of what they think the appropriate standards are for our community. We think that as members of a community, we owe each other some obligations. We're not just a public forum here. We owe each other some ethical obligations, and we're trying to define that.