Date: Fri, Sep 5, 2014 at 5:11 PM
Subject: Civility and Free Speech
To: "Faculty; Staff; Students"
Dear Campus Community,
This Fall marks the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, which made the right to free expression of ideas a signature issue for our campus, and indeed for universities around the world. Free speech is the cornerstone of our nation and society – which is precisely why the founders of the country made it the First Amendment to the Constitution. For a half century now, our University has been a symbol and embodiment of that ideal
As we honor this turning point in our history, it is important that we recognize the broader social context required in order for free speech to thrive. For free speech to have meaning it must not just be tolerated, it must also be heard, listened to, engaged and debated. Yet this is easier said than done, for the boundaries between protected and unprotected speech, between free speech and political advocacy, between the campus and the classroom, between debate and demagoguery, between freedom and responsibility, have never been fully settled. As a consequence, when issues are inherently divisive, controversial and capable of arousing strong feelings, the commitment to free speech and expression can lead to division and divisiveness that undermine a community’s foundation. This fall, like every fall, there will be no shortage of issues to animate and engage us all. Our capacity to maintain that delicate balance between communal interests and free expression, between openness of thought and the requirements and disciplines of academic knowledge, will be tested anew.
Specifically, we can only exercise our right to free speech insofar as we feel safe and respected in doing so, and this in turn requires that people treat each other with civility. Simply put, courteousness and respect in words and deeds are basic preconditions to any meaningful exchange of ideas. In this sense, free speech and civility are two sides of a single coin – the coin of open, democratic society.
Insofar as we wish to honor the ideal of Free Speech, therefore, we should do so by exercising it graciously. This is true not just of political speech on Sproul Plaza, but also in our everyday interactions with each other – in the classroom, in the office, and in the lab.