The search for the truth is the bedrock principle of academic discourse. Freedom of speech and thought allow for a “marketplace of ideas” where truth will eventually prevail. A society that values the search for truth is one where competing ideas and a diversity of viewpoints are encouraged. With this in mind, I have joined a number of academics and leaders of the educational organizations to express our support for freedom of thought, inquiry, expression and speech.
To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.” – Frederick Douglass
In the context of education, freedom of speech and inquiry expose people to a variety of perspectives – something enormously valuable in our highly polarized society. A university must dedicate itself to the search for knowledge and the discovery of truth. Students and faculty should welcome and be willing to confront challenging ideas in a peaceful way. Its educational mission is the transmission of knowledge, not the pursuit of ideological purity and conformity of opinion.
We often look with reverence to the values that are indispensable to truth seeking, but rarely concede that they are vulnerable. In recent months, free speech has come under attack on college campuses. The incidents at UC Berkeley and Middlebury College are the most recent examples. An unpopular or minority viewpoint is often met with contempt and even violent reaction. Speakers are silenced and students holding out-of-vogue opinions fear the retribution from classmates and teachers. As Frederick Douglass wrote in 1860, “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”
Hundreds of professors have seen enough and are now expressing their opposition to efforts to silence discourse on campus. Robert P. George and Cornel West, both respected political philosophers on opposite sides of the aisle, have come forward to express their support for freedom of inquiry and expression. They, along with hundreds of others have signed a statement in support of free speech in academia. It’s time for Americans of all ideological and political persuasions to come together and support the right to express ideas and opinions openly and without being confronted violently.