ANOTHER IVY LEAGUE PRESIDENT DEFENDS FREE SPEECH! This time it’s President Ruth Simmons, of Brown University:
“By entering this university,” she told students, “each of you has also become a guardian of free expression.” Although they might read or hear things profoundly uncomfortable to them, students must realize that this freedom is “the nectar of our republic and the basis of university life.” Its protection, she said, “is one of the most difficult things that we do. But it’s this same freedom that protects us when we are powerless.”
True, she said, “brigands” may be adept at using these freedoms “for their nefarious purposes,” but this must be fought through debate and the presentation of information. Simmons recounted an incident from her own student years, when a South African woman in one of her classes stood to defend apartheid. “I regret not engaging this woman for her assertions,” she said, “rather than dismissing her as racist.”
Referring to the Van Wickle Gates, Simmons issued a warning: “If you’ve come to this place for comfort, I urge you to rise, walk through yonder gate, and don’t look back.” For the rest, she concluded, “Welcome to this quarrelsome enterprise that we call a university. Enjoy.”
(Emphasis added.) I’m very happy to see statements like this, and hope that the presidents of other universities will follow suit. I do believe that we’re seeing a genuine trend here, and it’s big news.