President of Columbia Reaffirms Commitment to Academic Freedom

Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University, brilliantly discusses the issues which universities face when protecting speech, including the obligation universities have to their students to protect speech, in this phenomenal adaption of his convocation address in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In the speech Bollinger discusses two points which should guide the conversation about speech on campus: 1. institutions must not ban or censor speech, and 2. the way in which students are exposed to ideas and thoughts will determine who they are later in life.

Bollinger reminds us that the world outside of the university does not protect us from the offensive opinions of others, and thus universities have an obligation to their students to prepare them for the world they will experience after they graduate. It is encouraging to see a university president expressing his institution’s commitment to students, to free speech, and to academic freedom, which ensures that the university remains first and foremost a place of learning. As Bollinger says:

This commitment to constant self-reflection can make us seem ill-suited for the world outside, which too often elevates voices that are loudest and most sure of themselves. Yet our essential mission remains to invite students to join us in these special qualities of intellect that never stop questioning, whether it’s society’s conventional wisdom or their own beliefs. After all, it may be their only chance in life to see what’s possible with such a truly open mind.

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