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Wesleyan University President on ‘Argus’ Debate: ‘There Is No Right Not to Be Offended.’

By October 26, 2015

Wesleyan University President Michael S. Roth penned an editorial in Saturday’s Hartford Courant criticizing student-led calls to punish the campus newspaper, The Wesleyan Argus, for publishing a controversial op-ed that questioned the Black Lives Matter movement.

That student op-ed was met with outrage and calls to defund the paper by students who said the piece contributed to “institutional racism” on campus.

President Roth wrote that while the controversy over “the ongoing marginalization of a sector of our student population” merits debate, calls to punish newspapers “can have a chilling effect on future expression.” Roth goes on to say that “[h]istorically marginalized groups have the most to lose when freedom of expression is undermined by calls for safety”:

Students, faculty and administrators want our campuses to be free and safe, but we also acknowledge that the imperatives of freedom and safety are sometimes in conflict. A campus free from violence is an absolute necessity for a true education, but a campus free from challenge and confrontation would be anathema to it. We must not protect ourselves from disagreement; we must be open to being offended for the sake of learning, and we must be ready to give offense so as to create new opportunities for thinking.

Education worthy of the name is risky — not safe. Education worthy of the name does not hide behind a veneer of civility or political correctness, but instead calls into question our beliefs.

We learn most when we are ready to recognize how many of our ideas are just conventional, no matter how “radical” we think those ideas might be. We learn most when we are ready to consider challenges to our values from outside our comfort zones of political affiliation and personal ties.

[…]

As members of a university community, we always have the right to respond with our opinions, but there is no right not to be offended. Censorship diminishes true diversity of thinking; vigorous debate enlivens and instructs.

Roth also argues that, contrary to press reports, the Argus has not been defunded. However, the Wesleyan Student Assembly decided to dramatically restructure the way campus newspaper funds are allocated in the weeks following the controversy, in a way that guarantees the Argus will receive a significantly smaller budget than it did in previous years. You can read about the proposed changes on FIRE’s website and decide for yourself whether the changes are a thinly veiled attempt at censorship or a coincidence.

Schools: Wesleyan University Cases: Wesleyan University: Student Newspaper Threatened with Funding Cuts after Controversial Op-Ed