On avoiding a rush to judgement
At San Francisco State University, as on campuses across the nation, free speech and debate about a wide range of views is not always comfortable for all parties involved. In our views, that is not, in itself, a problem. Our role and challenge is to maintain a healthy environment for these exchanges, and we have both values and policies to guide us.
However, we increasingly find that as we respond to campus incidents, a wide and distant public starts to weigh in -- often judging the situation and reacting to a possible outcome before any decision has been made. Individuals and organizations who are remote from the campus, do not represent our students or members of our academic community, and are obtaining their information third-hand or even more distantly, through blogs, forwarded e-mails, and the like, often display misunderstanding, factual error, and even unawareness of the university’s actual actions. At the same time, they attempt to shape our response.
Such outside pressure is both disheartening and distracting. San Francisco State stands for, and is known for, certain key values: open discourse, tolerance of widely diverging views, and freedom in and outside of the classroom to argue strong views. We seek to maintain both openness and order. I would like it equally well understood that we have clear policies and procedures that support our values and guide our actions in cases where that balance is in question. The following points apply not to the content of any particular incident, but to the university’s principles and practice in all cases.
- Our students can be confident that we stand not only for free speech but for due process.
- Policies covering such matters as public events, demonstrations, and conduct toward other members of our community are clear and public.
- We also have clear processes on which all students can depend that guide the university’s handling of cases where policy may have been violated.
- We take student complaints seriously. Through the Student Organization Hearing Panel (SOHP) process we create a committee of students, faculty and staff to hear and resolve complaints against recognized student groups.
- We believe that for any member of the university administration to interject an opinion during a review process such as SOHP would be to interfere seriously with due process.
- In all matters involving student organizations we make a clear distinction between content and process -- between the opinions that may be expressed (in all but the rarest cases protected as free speech) and the policies that student groups must follow during their events.
- Our policies represent our best response to our values. We continually review, and as necessary, revise policies to ensure that they protect and advance our key goals of free speech, a safe and open campus, and academic freedom.
Those who expect their views to be entirely supported at San Francisco State University, whether by students, faculty, or the administration, will be disappointed –- as they should be. We are, in the words of Lani Guinier, seeking to make "a chorus out of many voices contending." And that is what you should ask of us.
-- Robert A. Corrigan, president