Earlier today in an email to all faculty, staff, and students, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty Peter Uvin called for face-to-face conversation in response to debates about freedom of expression on campus. He reaffirmed his commitment to free speech, and called out all sides of the debate for disrespectful attacks through online media. He said that while creating a learning environment is an institutional responsibility, it also requires personal commitments from each of us.
The email is copied below the line.
Dear members of our community,
As we reach the end of an outstanding academic year, questions of how we talk about identity have once again become heavily debated on our campus. This is understandable. As this election period amply demonstrates, these issues—and foremost race—are some of the most central and divisive ones in the country today, and it is no surprise that this would be the case right here in our community as well. It is also right. Each of us has every right to make our own analysis, come to our own conclusions, disagree with one another, and make that be known.
As I wrote to faculty in November, “We reaffirm our commitment to our standards of free speech and free inquiry, and we ensure you of our continued determination to defend them vigorously. We have never wavered from that. We never did and never will ask you to adopt a particular ideological line in your classes. We never did and never will oblige you to have quota in the authors you assign for readings, the theories you discuss, and so on. … We will continue to support your right to express your ideas freely in the academic setting and to teach topics and ideas that may be uncomfortable or challenging.” These words hold for faculty just as much as they hold for staff, students, and all other members of our community.
Too often, though, these debates seem to turn into ad hominem attacks, broad generalizations, humiliating or intimidating statements, or demoralizing claims that our identity determines what we can say or think. This is done by all sides to this debate, not just one. For that reason I write to remind you of our core commitments to freedom of expression and respect for each member of our community.
Our students have very different opinions about the impact of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, and other forms of identity on their lives and in society at large. They debate these matters in ways and terms that are no worse than what I recall from when I was a college student. The biggest difference is that they do so in online media, allowing thousands of people, often anonymously, to post, to look in, to cut and paste selectively, to get angry from a distance and see their worst fears reinforced over and over, without ever having to look someone in the eye and, from a place of courage, to speak honestly and listen carefully. We seem to increasingly live in a world of competing monologues and public shaming. While there is no way to turn the technological and cultural clock of our society back, we can and must do better as a college.
CMC is built on the freedom to ask tough questions, to challenge assumptions, and to exchange ideas: this is a right equally held by everyone in our community, regardless of their identity or viewpoint. Intimidating, disrespectful, overly generalIzing, or humiliating personal attacks are not only hurtful but they undermine that cherished freedom. We can and must do better than that in our college if we want to learn from one another and learn to lead in a plural society. An authentic commitment for learning and growth requires free expression, respect for diversity of thought, and open-mindedness, even kindness, especially about difficult and sensitive issues.
Creating this learning environment is an institutional responsibility, and we are committed to developing as many opportunities as possible to do this, through talks, dialogues, coursework, and workshops. But it also requires a personal commitment from each of us. I encourage all of you to step away from your computers, to talk with an open mind to people who have different experiences and perspectives from yours, to resist reflexive assumptions about what people can, will, or should think just because they are of a specific identity, culture, or background. We are all here to learn and grow. We all give individual thought to our positions, which often evolve. Indeed, this is why we live and work in our College. President Chodosh, faculty, staff, student leaders, and I will work with all of you to create the conditions in which this community can realize its potential for learning from our great pluralism and diversity.