‘Prepare for the period ahead’
In a time of crisis, says the AAU, critical thinking and civil discourse are essential

22 January 2003 | Anticipating growing world tensions and protest, the Association of American Universities (AAU) last week called on U.S. campuses to provide forums for diverse views, a safe environment for expressing them, and clear consequences for the disruption of learning.

The association’s statement, “The Responsibility of Universities at a Time of International Tension and Domestic Protest,” was issued to the media and to presidents and chancellors of the organization’s 62 member universities.

Chancellor Berdahl served last year as chair of the AAU, which promotes strong programs in higher education and in academic research and scholarship. The text of the Jan. 15 statement follows:

“The past year has brought tragedy and conflict of a scale and intensity not seen for many decades: the attacks on New York and Washington of September 11, 2001, the anthrax mailings, ongoing violence and crisis in the Middle East, terrorist assaults in numerous countries, including our own, and the threat of war in Iraq. Passions are running high across the political spectrum, and our campuses have once again become sites for demonstrations and protests. Supporters of various causes and points of view seek adherents and vehicles for their messages, including our universities themselves. It is essential that university presidents and chancellors consider carefully their responsibilities at such a time, and prepare themselves and their campuses for the period ahead.

“For the university to fulfill its obligations to academic freedom and to intellectual development, it must provide a forum in which individuals and groups can advocate their views. It must assure an environment for civil discourse to take place free of violence and intimidation. The university must also protect the rights of all members of the campus community to pursue their reasons for being on campus: the work of learning, teaching, scholarship and research, uninterrupted by anyone.

“The university has certain responsibilities beyond these protections of free speech and an open environment for learning. The university should actively promote informed dialogue, analytical thought, and exemplary arguments. Without such critical thinking, debate often becomes superficial and unproductive, divisive and politicized. It is incumbent upon the university to offer the expertise and experience of its faculty and staff members to broad audiences on campus through fora such as teach-ins and seminars.

“Finally, the university needs to make clear to everyone its ground rules for campus protest. While affording a public space for dissent and demonstrations, the university should announce that there are limits to allowable public protest, and in particular, that there are consequences for any of the following kinds of disruption: violence, intimidation, prevention of classes, lectures or laboratory work, takeover of buildings that interferes with the ability of students, faculty or staff to do their work, email fraud, and other distortions of legitimate campus communication. It is essential for the entire campus community and for visitors to the campus to learn that the provision of free speech and inquiry by the university carries with it the obligation to maintain a campus environment conducive to serious study and reflection.”


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