Recent protests at America’s universities and colleges have highlighted allegations of racial discord ranging from insensitivity, bigotry, hatred to physical threats.
Conflated with these reports is the issue of freedom of expression and journalistic coverage. The protests and coverage should not be mutually exclusive. But they have become so in the eyes of some participants and observers. Protests are the very essence of free expression and must be reported by an unfettered press.
Too many institutions of higher learning either have forgotten, ignored or chosen to abandon their historic commitment to a free, robust exchange of ideas regardless of ideology, creed, or personal discomfort.
The University of Chicago report on free speech and intellectual debate is a reminder of where institutions should stand. It’s must reading for all who are concerned with how we as society and institutions discuss the critical challenges of our times along a continuum spanning religion, politics, education, economy, race, class and sexual orientation as well as social and ethical mores.
Unless we recommit ourselves to fearless, strong debate that welcomes and listens to often conflicting perspectives, we are betraying the struggle of our founding fathers and mothers to bequeath a republic that embraces freedom of expression no matter how uncomfortable at times.
It’s time to restore institutional courage and commitment to our basic principles. So far too many universities and colleges have failed the test.