A lecture given by the controversial social scientist Charles Murray last week showed that even in the middle of the most contested fights, IU remains true to its core principles.
Universities are centers of learning, debate and civic discourse. This role of the university is especially important in highly partisan and divisive times we live in.
IU’s motto of “Lux et Veritas,” or “Light and Truth,” challenges us to explore all possibilities before we come to conclusions. At the heart of IU’s mission as a university and our ability to rise to our motto’s challenge is the principle of freedom of speech.
Whether or not we agree with a speaker’s views, the answer to speech is not violence but to answer speech with more speech and engage our opponents in the marketplace of ideas.
As far as free speech goes, Murray’s IU lecture was a prime example for how it works.
Students, unaffiliated with the IU administration, independently invited a controversial speaker to campus. Other students, disagreeing with that speaker’s past statements, organized letters and protests in response to that invitation.
In the end, all voices were heard. The lecture went on, the protesters were allowed to protest and the campus conducted a productive conversation about ideas and values, highlighting the variety of intellectual views on campus.
This stands in stark contrast to events on other college campuses during the past year.
Schools like DePaul University and Georgetown University have attempted to disinvite speakers with differing levels of success. Allowing speakers, despite controversy, follows in IU’s long tradition as a center of free speech.
IU’s legendary president Herman B Wells championed free speech during the contentious Cold War. IU ensured academic freedom throughout Alfred Kinsey’s controversial research about human sexuality.
Even during the last election cycle, IU welcomed protests, candidates, speakers and debates that encompassed every possible political view to the benefit of all its students.
This is not to say that IU is a perfect place for free speech or for agreement between students, faculty and staff.
As long as we continue to think, work and study we will disagree. No amount of free speech can eliminate fundamental differences in how we see the world. Yet our University’s commitment to free speech is the only alternative to a breakdown in discourse, or worse, violence.
In the middle of a toxic political environment, our community took a step back and stood up for timeless principles that are necessary for our democracy. IU took a stand for free speech last week, and it needs to continue to do so in the future.