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November 3, 2016.
VOL. XVIII NO. 4
CLICK HERE TO COMMENT OR TO PROVOKE COMMENTS FROM OTHER CLASSMATES
Did Salovey get it right?
Here are his Wall Street Journal column,
his letter to us, and a place to share your reactions
Yale Believes In Free Speech - and So Do I
Peter Salovey, President, Yale University
Published October 17, 2016
The United States is struggling culturally and politically with questions of race and ethnicity, as it has through its entire history. It should be no surprise that these matters are surfacing on college and university campuses, as they did in the past.
This time around, campus presidents have come under heavy pressure to take sides in a conflict that many have characterized as a war between the principles of inclusion and free expression. One side seems to think that we cannot make communities more inclusive unless we are willing to constrain or discourage the expression of offensive views. As the other side sees it, we cannot sustain an absolute commitment to free expression if we make inclusion an essential aspect of our mission.
This narrative of conflict rests on a false dichotomy, and a dangerous one at that. I believe we can uphold free expression and make our campuses more inclusive places. I also think it is critical that we do so.
At Yale, we adhere to exceptionally strong principles of free expression. These were set forth originally in the Woodward Report of 1974, which was Yale's signal contribution to earlier debates over free expression, and which has served as a model at many other universities. Yale does not censor invited speakers, nor does the administration discipline faculty members or students for the expression of ideas, no matter how unpopular. The answer to speech one finds offensive is more speech.
We also prize an inclusive community. Last year, when racial matters again became national issues, incidents took place on many campuses that catalyzed student activism. Some of our students were determined to communicate to us their own experiences-at Yale. We took the time to listen to what they had to say. Not only were they telling us some things we needed to hear, but we also knew we should be models of how to engage in difficult conversations without shutting down the people trying to speak.
We responded to student concerns, denying some requests while announcing measures to address others. We had been considering most of these measures for some time, including a previously announced initiative to promote faculty diversity and excellence. Student concerns reinforced and confirmed some of our own judgments about specific steps we could take to make Yale a more inclusive community. I believed that in taking some of these steps, we were unquestionably doing the right thing for our university.
Those who worry that free speech is imperiled at Yale should take note of the facts. In the course of all the events and discussions of the past year, the Yale administration did not criticize, discipline or dismiss a single member of its faculty, staff or student body for expressing an opinion. Nor have we allowed any member of the community to disrupt or otherwise prevent a scheduled speaker from having his or her say. No invitation to any speaker has been withdrawn as the result of concerns about viewpoint or potential disruption.
A commitment to free speech does not mean that one has to think all speech is equally valuable, respectful or helpful to the educational mission. Last year many campuses, including our own, saw difficult confrontations and moments in which individuals demonstrated poor judgment about where and how to speak.
The promotion of free expression does not mean all speakers will express themselves in wise or civil ways. In a volatile world with social media and cameras on every phone, emotional moments can be taken out of context and magnified, distorting or obscuring an accurate view of events. With rare exceptions, our community conducted itself thoughtfully and respectfully through many weeks of intense discussion.
Far from discouraging free speech, events at Yale last year triggered a rich and remarkable set of conversations and debates across our student organizations, classrooms and open campus forums. The Yale Daily News, the oldest daily student newspaper in the country, filled its pages and opinion columns with voices that diverged in every conceivable way. Faculty have spoken to all aspects of the relevant events and issues, as have alumni and staff. I cannot remember a greater display of free expression since I arrived at Yale as a graduate student in 1981.
Our nation has not come to the end of its challenges with the terrible legacies of slavery and discrimination in all its forms. Inclusion and equality are works in progress, both for Yale and for the rest of our exceptional country. I deeply believe that free expression advances that work, as it always has, the more of it the better.
President Peter Salovey's Letter to Yale Alumni,
November 1, 2016
Here are Salovey's key paragraphs:
What about our challenges? Over the past year, I know that many alumni have been concerned about the political and cultural issues confronting both higher education and American society as a whole. Yale faculty and students have engaged strongly with these issues, as we often have before. We have been wrestling with difficult and complex matters: how to ensure and encourage free expression while prohibiting harassment, intimidation, and coercion; how to make our campus welcoming and inclusive to an exceptionally diverse student population; and how to understand and commemorate the past.
At the end of this message, I have attached an editorial I published recently in The Wall Street Journal. (Ed. note: see letter above) Over the past year, some commentators have presented partial or inaccurate accounts of the events that took place on campus last fall, including misrepresentations about our treatment of free speech. I appreciate the Journal's editorial board providing me space to respond, and I wanted you in particular to know what I had to say.
Given the limits of such a short piece, I also wanted to expand on it for you, those who care most deeply about Yale. As I noted in the editorial, higher education confronts a dangerous false dichotomy where some wish to pit the principle of free expression against a commitment to inclusion, and others wish to pit a commitment to inclusion against the principle of free expression. I believe we must sustain both.
I want to be very clear in particular that our entire leadership team is dedicated to the free exchange of ideas at Yale - all ideas. In my writings and lectures - including to the incoming freshmen in 2014, and at the baccalaureate service for the Class of 2016 last spring - I have addressed our community about the duty to speak fully, listen carefully to others speaking their minds, and seek common ground to move forward. It is our responsibility as educators to ensure our campus is a model for the free exchange of ideas that represent diverse points of view.
Sadly, we live in a fracturing world, where partisanship and polarization are rampant not only in politics but in society as a whole. We simply cannot afford to splinter into groups of narrow self-interest or rigidly-defined views. We cannot choose to align, work, or socialize only with people who feel precisely as we do. As John F. Kennedy urged his audience at American University in 1963: "Let us not be blind to our differences. But let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved." Over fifty years later, the world still demands "attention to our common interests."
Institutions of higher learning have a special role to play in this work, and none more so than Yale. We must remain a community of diverse individuals living, working, and learning together, in pursuit of light and truth. We cannot continue that pursuit without our bedrock, unshakeable commitment to free expression set forth in the Woodward committee report more than forty years ago. We are working hard to create a campus culture that both celebrates diversity and is characterized by the willingness to hear and consider perspectives antithetical to one's own.
Will members of our community sometimes test the university's commitments, and will they sometimes make poor judgments about the exercise of their rights to expression? Yes, of course they will. Every generation has to learn its own lessons about these matters, and universities are not isolated preserves of perfectly achieved understanding. Yale is always a work in progress. Still, the only answer on this campus to speech with which one disagrees is the same as it has been at Yale for many years: more speech.
Before I close, let me preview one additional matter that will be coming to your attention later this fall. In conjunction with our own deliberations at Yale regarding the commemoration of John C. Calhoun, we have both witnessed and learned something from a full range of similar conversations about renaming buildings taking place at Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Princeton, Vanderbilt, the University of North Carolina, the University of Oregon, the University of Texas, and elsewhere. In fact, we have seen vigorous debates about renaming monuments, buildings, counties, streets, and other public spaces taking place throughout the country-and indeed, around the world.
At Yale, I decided in April to retain the name of Calhoun College, following a year-long process of engagement with the Yale community, including Yale alumni. However, in the weeks and months that followed the decision, many faculty, students, alumni, and staff raised additional concerns about that decision. I recognized in particular that we could have drawn more effectively on our own campus expertise, and I also came to see that both for this decision and others that may arise, we needed to develop a set of reasonable and well-understood principles.
I therefore asked John Witt '94, '99 J.D., '00 Ph.D., the Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law and Professor of History, to chair a Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming. I charged the committee to articulate principles that could guide Yale in decisions about whether to remove a historical name from a building or other prominent structure or space on campus-principles that are enduring rather than specific to particular controversies.
The committee consists of six faculty members with expertise in history, law, and management; three alumni (Len Baker '64, Tom Bernstein '74, '77 J.D., and Mimi Wright '86); one staff member; and two current students. Their work includes consulting with experts; communicating and coordinating with other universities that are addressing similar issues; and collaborating with other groups at Yale that have been charged with related work, such as the Committee on Art in Public Spaces. We expect the committee to finish its work and issue a report by the end of this fall semester, when I will share it with you.
President and Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology
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