John Inazu


Scholars of the university have produced volumes about growing pressures on the coherence and purpose of institutions of higher education. Meanwhile, legal scholars’ writing about the university has typically focused on its First Amendment dimensions. This Article links insights from these two groups of scholars to explore the purpose of the university and defend it against increasing technological, ideological, and cultural pressures. It argues that a better understanding of the relationship between the First Amendment and the university can help strengthen the coherence of the university’s purpose against these pressures. The connection between the First Amendment and institutional purpose is in some ways unsurprising. Limits on expressive liberties have always set the boundaries of expression for political communities, and the university is a kind of political community. These boundaries reflect something about a community’s goals, values, and—ultimately—its purpose.

Part I sets forth a normative framework for the university as what the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre terms a “place of constrained disagreement.” The paradigmatic university under this framework reflects three characteristics: it is dialogical, it is democratic, and it is residential. Part II builds upon this understanding of the university by considering its intersection with five contemporary First Amendment issues: academic freedom, public employee speech, public forums, safe spaces, and religious pluralism.