It is during times of political conflict and social upheaval when our most cherished national values are tested. Since the events of September 11, 2001 our nation has been struggling with the balancing act of ensuring our national security while upholding our hard fought constitutional protections such as the freedom of speech. This tension emerges quite palpably on university campuses and in the media in public discussions over academic freedom and whether scholars have the right to voice opinions that are in deep conflict with those held by much of the citizenry. We must guard steadfastly against the desire to curb our most basic freedoms in these times. This applies most especially to those of us who may wish to exercise dissent, whether it be in the town square, in a public hearing, in a place of worship, on the airwaves, or in our nation’s centers of higher education. As university scholars, we have dedicated our lives to education—through our teaching, writing, and service—and its critical role in creating and sustaining democratic societies. For this reason, we find it a reprehensible distortion of the most revered principles of education to encourage students and faculty to make lists of teachers and professors labeled as “radical” or “conservative,” instead of engaging them intellectually. Academics have an obligation and responsibility to promote critical thinking in university classrooms and in the public sphere. In other words, one of the most important parts of our job is to encourage students and publics to ask difficult and sometimes troubling questions about our society. Finally, we would also issue an urgent reminder to those who would tread on the academic freedom of others, that the very nation they wish to shelter from controversial expressions of opinion (excluding hate speech, of course) by some individuals and groups, is most at risk when we fail to also protect the rights and freedoms of those persons.
*The University of California’s own policy on academic freedom guarantees these rights as well.