University of North Dakota Faculty/Staff Newsletter

From President Kelley: Statement on Free Speech and Respect

Dear Campus Community:

This week, traveling campus evangelist Tom Short will visit our campus at the invitation of H20, a recognized student organization here at UND.  As is the case with many visitors to our campus, Mr. Short has requested and been given the opportunity to make public remarks.

Mr. Short has visited our campus for many years, and each year his remarks are heard by students, staff and faculty who both agree and disagree with his viewpoints.  While this is by no means the only event on our campus that sparks differences of opinion, it does provide the opportunity to reaffirm the important dual principles of freedom of speech and civility.

The First Amendment to our Constitution protects free speech.  It enables us to gather ideas from a variety of different sources and, if we so choose, to disagree with those ideas—either individually or as part of a group.  Nowhere should this freedom to express ideas be prized more highly than at a university. The free expression of thought is the basis of learning and scholarship, and university campuses have historically been the birthplace of many ideas that, while at times controversial, have led to important social change.

That said, supporting an individual’s freedom of expression is not the same thing as supporting the opinions that individual expresses.  And UND’s commitment to protecting free speech does not reflect a lack of respect for those being spoken to—or those being spoken about. In fact, we have a critical responsibility to promote respect and civility within our campus community.

For example, the American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Colleges’  landmark 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure notes that the academic community, “as scholars and educational officers,” should at all times “…be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others…”

And UND’s own University Statement on Community and Respect for Diversity and Difference affirms thatAll members of the UND community are welcome throughout our campus and are valued for the diversity of their thoughts, beliefs, and ideals. The diversity of our background and experiences, culture and heritage, race, gender, religion, national origin, orientation, and other dimensions of personal identity is a strength of our community and a cause for celebration.”

Whatever activities and discussions take place within the UND community this week or in the future, we urge and expect a climate of civility and respect--not only from our own students, faculty and staff, but from everyone who visits our campus.


Robert O. Kelley