Statement on freedom of expression: There must be room for different opinions at a university

The board of Aarhus University has adopted the statement ‘Freedom of expression for staff and students at Aarhus University’. The statement is intended to ensure that students and employees have the right to free speech, even if this may offend others, says Chair of the Board Connie Hedegaard.

[Translate to English:] Foto: Lars Kruse

Aarhus University has received its own statement on the freedom of expression. The AU board has just adopted the statement ‘Freedom of expression for staff and students at Aarhus University’, which consolidates the right of students and employees to express themselves freely.

“Those who have followed the debate on the freedom of expression may have wondered whether it is still possible to express their views openly. It is, and particularly at the university, where freedom of expression – along with freedom of research and academic freedom – is a cornerstone of the university’s activities. The statement must make it clear that we have the freedom to express ourselves but that we must also accept being contradicted. After all, that is the whole point of a university – that there is room for different opinions”, says Connie Hedegaard, chair of the Aarhus University board. 

The statement was initiated by a 2020 report by the Danish Commission on Freedom of Expression, which encouraged Danish university management teams to consider how freedom of research, freedom of information and freedom of expression could be optimised for the benefit of Danish democracy. 

A draft of the statement on freedom of expression was submitted for consultation in AU’s liaison committees, student organisations, academic councils and faculty management teams. The consultation process revealed general support for the statement. It also led to a few adjustments being made to the draft, and the final statement was discussed and adopted at a meeting of the AU board on Thursday 7 April. From now on, new employees will receive the statement as part of their welcome package. 

“It sends an important signal. When you are employed at the university, you need to know that all opinions are permitted here. Being able to exercise freedom of expression responsibly is one of our basic values. This may seem obvious, but there is a lot going on in the public debate that suggests it’s a good idea to write it down. I am also pleased that students and employees took part in the consultation process and offered constructive input. I hope the statement can be a useful signal for both staff and students”, says Connie Hedegaard.