Chancellor's Friday Letters

Respectful, free speech

Respectful, free speech

October 8, 2010

Dear Friends,

Because we are engaged in the final throes of an election year, we are exposed on a daily if not hourly basis to many contentious issues in society through advertisements, debates, media treatments, blogs from the right and left, and discussions.

This intense exposure of our times makes me think of the role of a university in this regard. A number of vital issues – varied in scope, many in number, and serious in importance – face the state, the nation and the world whether we are in an election season or not.

Reasonable people can hold diametrically divergent views of the best way forward on such issues.  Pick your topic – from immigration to the economy, from energy to education, from poverty to healthcare, from illicit drugs to conflicts in Asia, South Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and America – there are strongly held perspectives that can divide on these issues and many others.

One of the roles of the University of California, Riverside, is to balance the centrifugal forces that can divide society by serving as a centripetal force that brings people together through knowledge and the courage to engage in meaningful and substantive conversations.

Our University is a crucible of learning and discovery, a place where we create an understanding of commonalities and a respect for differences.

Our University is a place where, through formal and informal interactions, from large group discourse to small conversations over coffee, we create forums to identify the things that hold us together as a diverse humanity, rather than divide us.  Our students can live their promise to become leaders in this increasingly diverse, complex, and often conflicted world because of the wealth of opportunities to gain knowledge and engage in meaningful discourse.

At times these discussions may grow intense, even contentious. But as we share our often disparate views, we must always maintain a welcoming environment of respect and civility. We are so very fortunate in this nation to have the right—and privilege—of free speech.

With this right, however, comes responsibility. As we engage in free speech, we endeavor to do so in a way that is sensitive to other cultures and perspectives. The University of California, Riverside stands for the values of openness, civility, and respectful dialogue. We seek to provide a safe and welcoming environment that encourages intellectual growth and spirited discussion. And when necessary we must go further, denouncing words that incite, acts of incivility, violence, bigotry, discrimination, and intolerance.

Whether an idea is accepted by some or discredited and repugnant to most, the discourse surrounding the idea is critical to be able to inform ourselves and others about the truths, wonders and outrages of life.  If we were to disallow the freedom of expression and the marketplace of ideas, we would all be lessened in a way that would challenge the core fabric of our society.

Indeed, it was Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, one of the architects of our modern understanding of the First Amendment, who said over eighty years ago in Whitney v. California, “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”



Tim White, Chancellor

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Find out what else is going on at UC Riverside: http://www.ucr.edu/happenings/

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