Upholding the right to free speech

12-04-2006

A number of people have expressed concern over the past few days regarding attempts to disrupt a forum that took place last Thursday evening at the MSU College of Law. Congressman Tom Tancredo was invited to the MSU campus to speak on immigration policy—an important issue of public policy that deserves thoughtful discussion and, yes, debate. Both MSU and the MSU College of Law are committed to providing venues for the free exchange of ideas. While thoughtful debate is certainly central to the critical assessment of any issue, disruption is not—and it has no place on our campus.

A law college student group, the Conservative Law Society, invited Congressman Tancredo to share his perspectives on immigration. Both liberal and conservative law students were in attendance to listen to the Congressman’s remarks and participate in a question and answer period. The College Republicans and the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) independently advertised the event among undergraduates at the university.

As the university’s general policy on outside speakers states, “It is the policy of Michigan State University to foster a spirit of free inquiry and to encourage the timely discussion of a wide variety of issues, provided that the views expressed are stated openly and, therefore, are subject to critical evaluation. Restraints on free inquiry should be held to that minimum which is consistent with preserving an organized society in which peaceful, democratic means for change are available.”

While we may disagree with one another’s positions, as a learning community we must respect the rights of individuals to express their positions – without fear of intimidation and physical harm. As articulated in my statement on dissent and disruption, “Fundamental to Michigan State University’s philosophy on campus dissent is a belief that the rights guaranteed in the First and Fourteenth amendments of the Constitution must be protected. The University has worked for decades to establish a community consensus on the scope of intellectually productive and constitutionally protected dissent, and to distinguish it from impermissible disruption. That consensus is now embodied in several documents, which have received student, faculty, and administrative review and approval.” For more on this subject, I encourage you to read my statement on free speech rights and responsibilities in its entirety.

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