Message from the President on Freedom of Expression

April 10, 2019

Originally sent via email

Dear students, faculty and staff,

We are nearing the end of another semester at UArts that has brought with it a diverse range of exceptional courses, performances, exhibitions, events, lectures and conversations, representative of our equally diverse community. At this important time, I would like to take the opportunity to re-affirm the University’s core values, and our commitment to rigorous critical inquiry in support of our mission of Advancing Human Creativity.

Our core value on integrity and diversity is clear: we are a supportive community committed to individual and artistic integrity and inclusion. We promote and respect self-expression, a wide range of ideas and diversity in all its forms.

Unfortunately, as a society we are living in a time of sharp divisions—of opinions, perspectives and beliefs—and that has led to decreased civility, increased anger and a “new normal” of offense given and taken. Across our nation it is all too common that opinions expressed that differ from another’s—especially those that are controversial—can spark passion and even outrage, often resulting in calls to suppress that speech.

That simply cannot be allowed to happen. I firmly believe that limiting the range of voices in society erodes our democracy. Universities, moreover, are at the heart of the revolutionary notion of free expression: promoting the free exchange of ideas is part of the core reason for their existence. That open interchange of opinions and beliefs includes all members of the UArts community: faculty, students and staff, in and out of the classroom. We are dedicated to fostering a climate conducive to respectful intellectual debate that empowers and equips our students to meet the challenges they will face in their futures.

I believe this resolve holds even greater importance at an art school. Artists over the centuries have suffered censorship, and even persecution, for the expression of their beliefs through their work. My answer is simple: not now, not at UArts.

The University of the Arts is committed to the exercise of free speech and academic freedom, to addressing difficult or controversial issues and ideas through civil discussion, with respect for those who hold opinions different from our own. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis' 1927 advice still holds true today: that the remedy for messages we disagree with or dislike is more speech and not enforced silence.

We must at the same time be aware that the freedom to express ourselves carries with it consequences, and we must be mindful of how exercising that right may impact others. While, in general, opinions with which we disagree, or even are offended by, are legally protected, we strongly affirm the importance of respect for others and the value of civil discourse. A university—and a society—is made greater by the variety of voices talking to, rather than at, one another.

This is a unique institution in which students and faculty regularly collaborate across disciplines. We must use that same model of collaboration with others to work on the difficult issues that would otherwise divide us, and in so doing bring us together.