Respectful disagreement


The following e-mail was sent to the campus community on Dec. 9, 2013:

Dear students, faculty, staff:

Universities, especially public universities, play an essential role in fostering debate. We treasure this role at our campus, where social justice is a strategic priority and our commitment to free speech runs deep.  We work hard to achieve a balance where both expression and safety are fostered.

Two recent statements by students -- one made on campus last month, and one posted online in August, which recently came to light -- have challenged this balance.  I am confident that our community can address this challenge --  but it will require help and commitment from each of you.

First and foremost, I ask that you stay firmly committed to free speech.  Strong opinions -- and strong disagreements -- are essential to the life of our democracy, and the life of our university. While one may want to step in and sanction a student or colleague for speech we find repugnant, our obligation is to allow the lawful airing of views.

Second, trust that I will step in when speech or actions cross the line into violations of law or University policy. I am absolutely committed to maintaining a safe environment. In both recent cases, for example, we have conducted thorough threat assessments with law enforcement, increased campus safety measures, facilitated dialogue with student groups, offered counseling resources and initiated the student conduct review process. I am confident these actions protect both the safety and the rights of our campus community.  In all situations, I ask that you give our processes the time needed to be thorough, objective and effective.  Understand as well that these processes must protect the rights and privacy of those who may be the subject of counseling, review or sanction. 

Third, keep an open mind.  I have spoken before about the obligation to own your own mind. Issues being debated on campus can capture widespread attention.  This can be a welcome contribution to the dialogue. It can also be a source of confusion, misinformation, and pressure to subvert our processes.  Each of us at this university is a scholar—whether student, faculty member or staff—and each of us has the obligation to form opinions and take action based on exploring, analyzing and carefully listening before drawing conclusions.

I thank you in advance for helping to promote dialogue and safety on our campus.  Together we can forge a path to peace and greater understanding.  The university is committed to fostering these aims and provides resources to assist you.  These include:

Sincerely yours,

Les Wong