UVA President Teresa Sullivan makes the case for free speech

Dive Brief:

  • Outgoing University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan told an audience at the annual American Council on Education conference that allowing free speech is the ideal, and only, path to true academic freedom and expression. 
  • Invoking her own experience in free speech controversy in reference to a letter in which she quoted Thomas Jefferson, Sullivan told attendees that free speech should not draw demands for faculty to be fired strictly on terms of different views. 
  • Sullivan also said that free speech of conservative speakers was not the only side under attack, and referenced canceled appearances by rapper Common at Kean College and protests against Angela Davis at Texas Tech University as examples of conservative backlash against liberal viewpoints.  

Dive Insight:

College leaders must consider the climate of campus and the ramifications of free speech endorsement before assuming that all faculty and students are all in for finding middle ground. It only takes one incident similar to outbursts at the University of California-Berkeley or Middlebury College to become a national example of how free speech on campus can go terribly wrong, and usually in defense of remarks that border on hate or incendiary towards a specific racial or ethnic group. 

When students are demanding a definitive stand from leadership on the value of space and voice that marginalizes others, leaders should consider not only the allowances for those voices, but the ways in which they promote alternative voices or spaces for students. Web banners and commercials for liberal speakers and flyers for conservative speakers will not do in an era where social media and instant engagement can easily showcase imbalance in resource usage or administrative commitment to equal views having equal time and promotion. 

Filed Under: Higher Ed