Letter to the editor: At Bucknell, the ‘marketplace of ideas’—not the administration—should be the arbiter of appropriate speech
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To the editor:
The first sentence in the concluding paragraph of the Feb. 16 Bucknellian Editorial: Free speech cannot be conditional on political beliefs says “Universities are under the obligation of being spaces for free speech and intellectual discourse.” Unfortunately, recent developments on campus have led me to believe this is just a pleasant fiction at Bucknell.
Bucknell University should be held to the standard it has established in its Educational Goals by aligning the tenets set forth in its student handbook with present day realities and the purpose of a liberal arts education. Bucknell is not only denying students and faculty their First Amendment rights, but also handicapping them relative to their peers at other universities.
Over the past two years, institutions like American, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Purdue, University of Chicago, Vanderbilt, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Wisconsin System (which includes 26 campuses) have adopted The Statement of Free Expression. In doing so, these universities have guaranteed all members of their respective communities “the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn” and clarify that “it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.” This commitment provides students and professors the freedom and flexibility they need to learn and teach to the best of their abilities.
The benefits outlined in the second and third sentences of the editorial’s concluding paragraph are being realized by students at other universities. Currently, Bucknell policies prohibit students from fully exploring their “opinions, values, and beliefs” and learning how to “intelligently, eloquently, and respectfully” voice them. If Bucknell students remain sheltered from “opposing opinions,” and thus healthy debate, they will be ill-prepared upon graduation to express and question viewpoints beyond those sanctioned within the Bucknell monoculture.
The recent controversy involving Bucknell Professor Marcellus Andrews, which has received significant media attention (see posts @BUFreeSpeech), is a Freedom of Expression issue which demonstrates why Bucknell must adopt the Statement. As if anticipating the issue, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education summarized Bucknell administrative policies that attempt to control speech on campus: Bias Incident, Appropriate Use, Harassment, Bullying, and Cyberbullying. One could argue that each were violated by Professor Andrews in his email.
Bucknell’s weak official response to Andrews’ disturbing email appears arbitrary and capricious because it is driven by ambiguous policies interpreted and enforced by the administration. I have little doubt that if a white, male student had used the University’s email system to threaten, harass, and bully a “minority” group the way Andrews did, the University would not defend him and say his words were “mischaracterized on social media.”
In the wake of this insipid response, calls for Bucknell to discipline Marcellus Andrews are understandable, but wrong. Andrews, like everyone at Bucknell, should be allowed to express his views no matter how unwelcome, disagreeable, or deeply offensive they may be. To be fair to all, the Board of Trustees must allow the “marketplace of ideas” to function and relieve the administration from its role as arbiter of appropriate speech.
I’ve taken the following steps to communicate these concerns to Bucknell and have not yet received a response:
1. On Feb. 16, I sent an email to Kenneth W. Freeman, the chair of the Bucknell Board of Trustees.
2. My article: Bucknell University Students Are Being Cheated
4. Numerous and repeated posts to Bucknell’s social media properties.
In a recent talk to Stanford’s Board of Trustees, John Etchemendy, a former Stanford University provost, blasted intolerance to free speech and strongly advocated for an environment that only The Statement of Free Expression can create. Hopefully another former Stanford Provost, Bucknell University President John Bravman, agrees with his long-time colleague and will follow his courageous lead.
By endorsing the Statement of Free Expression, Bucknell University will empower its students and faculty to embrace Etchemendy’s solution and realize “that those who hold views contrary to one’s own are rarely evil or stupid, and may know or understand things that we do not. It is only when we start with this assumption that rational discourse can begin, and that the winds of freedom can blow.”
I strongly urge the University to follow the lead of its highly-esteemed peer institutions.
David Kinnear ’90