San Francisco State UniversityWeb A-ZFind it Fast

Free speech and civility: keeping the balance

News & Events

More Campus Headlines

News Archive

Contact Public Affairs

Dear Colleagues and Students:

As we enter the next stages of our individual and national response to the attacks of Sept. 11, it is time to reinforce an old message: Now more than ever, we need to do our best to see that our most cherished right, that of free speech, is complemented by another of our highest values: respect for the views, feelings, and human dignity of others.

It is not easy to find this balance, particularly when the subjects we are discussing - culpability for terrorism, America's role and impact on the world, culture and religion - are automatically sensitive. I trust that we would all agree that we need t o allow ourselves to present controversial ideas, to listen to things with which we may strongly disagree, and to engage in the public back-and-forth exchanges that help us to weigh the relative merits of ideas, understand each other better, and perhaps e ven - though not necessarily - find points of consensus.

One key to doing this well, in ways that preserve both our immediate community and our greater democracy, is to remember consciously that, as Dean of Human Relations Ken Monteiro puts it, we can "strongly disagree with a person's ideas without disagreein g with or condemning that person's humanity." Stereotyping and broad generalizations are prejudice, clear and dangerous. Threats, whether expressed or implied, have no place in our debates, and, in fact, take us closer to all that we abhor.

There is no question that strong speech will, and should, be heard on this campus. We have, I am proud to say, a considerable range of tolerance for the discomfort that often comes with debate over controversial issues. We have sought to provide guidance in the difficult business of democratic debate. We have shown where we stand on free speech, and we have shown where we stand on hate speech.

We know that civil language and behavior can mark our most intensely felt debates and that division need not equal divisiveness. For some very practical and helpful perspectives on how to speak freely, yet not do harm to each other, I would refer you to the Office of Human Relations web site at , where you'll find among many resources, "A First-Aid Kit for a Hate and Hurt-Free Environment."

We have done well as a campus community in these first weeks since the attacks, coming together in shared grief and horror and supporting each other. In the days to come, I think we are going to have to call on different strengths. We need to speak freel y, yet hold back from hateful, hurtful speech. That takes effort, self-control, and an honest desire to see individuals, not types; people, not demons; issues, not absolute truths.

If ever there were a safe and stable place for public disagreement, for strong and differing perspectives to be offered and vigorously debated, this campus is it. Many among us have come to America expressly to find this kind of freedom. Let us recommit ourselves to nurturing it here at San Francisco State.

Robert A. Corrigan

San Francisco State University Home     Search     Need Help?    

1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94132    (415) 338-1111
Last modified February 20, 2002, by the Office of Public Affairs