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UMass Chancellor: Campus Leaders Must Encourage Debate, Not Censorship

Far too often, college administrators fail to recognize the value of free speech in education and instead take action to censor students’ protected expression. However, Kumble Subbaswamy, Chancellor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, commendably advocated for free speech in a recent article for The Huffington Post.  Commenting on recent free speech controversies involving Rolling Stone magazine and Northwestern University, Subbaswamy voiced his support for the freedoms FIRE works hard to defend: The Bill of Rights in the Constitution is unprecedented in its protection of free speech, even hateful speech. It is those protections that form the enduring foundation of U.S. democracy. FIRE certainly agrees.  In his book Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff addressed the importance of debate and discussion in creating an informed, democratic society. College campuses play an integral role in fostering debate—but without a guarantee of free speech, such debate cannot occur. Subbaswamy likewise stresses the role of higher education and, more importantly, college administrators in enabling these discussions: One feature of a pluralistic, multicultural democracy like ours is that no matter what position someone takes on social or political issues, some faction or the other is offended. A university campus certainly is a microcosm of the larger society, but first and foremost, it is a training ground for responsible citizenship. Campus leaders should be careful not to impose or accept political correctness to the extent of curtailing free speech, but encourage thoughtful debate. As chancellor, Subbaswamy has a great opportunity to make positive change at UMass Amherst, a “red light” school in FIRE’s Spotlight database. Hopefully Subbaswamy will channel his passionate defense of free speech into his work at UMass Amherst. As always, FIRE is ready and more than willing to help! Read the rest of Subbaswamy’s piece at The Huffington Post.

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