Throughout our history, American universities have been, and hopefully will continue to be, one of the major forums for social discourse about ideas and viewpoints. Freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry are at the core of our common university values.
Ideas, images, symbols and notions come in all forms, popular and unpopular, intelligent and stupid, magnificent and absurd, sacred and truly repulsive. But what is really important within our way of life is that they have the freedom to be expressed, to be critiqued and to be valued or not.
Believing this is often easier than practicing it. We all say we uphold the First Amendment and that we believe in the right of free speech until it is our ideas, our beliefs and/or our notions that have been offended, violated or silenced. It is not easy to stand by and permit what we fundamentally disagree with to be aired or publicly expressed without wanting to condemn or prevent it from being displayed.
However, as members of the university community, we have an obligation to ensure that we continue to protect the legacy of our university as a safe place for expression. In order to do this we may have to guard against our natural tendencies to not want to hear or understand that which we disagree with or that which violates our own personal beliefs, tastes or moral values.
Clearly, we also have an obligation to ensure that this right of expression does not disrupt or harm the safety of the greater community or that it does not disrupt the normal course of learning and work. Here at CSU, we do have sound policies and practices in place to assist with this, and we can set limits on the time, place and manner in which expression can occur. We also have a responsibility to provide care and assistance to those who are disturbed, distraught or angered by the fact that certain speech, ideas or expression is being presented. Referrals to services and support continue to be made to staff and faculty with expertise in counseling and support services.
At the same time, we have a commitment to help others understand that, despite their personal discomfort or disagreement with the expression that is being presented, the presenter(s) have a right to their ideas and to have a public forum for expression. We need to do our best to understand that the best way to counter disagreeable expression is through active engagement in debate, critique and dialogue.
Thank you to all of the members of our university community who, throughout this emotionally challenging year, have worked to engage our campus community in dialogue about civility, citizenship and community building.
Linda Kuk is the vice president for student affairs at CSU.