By Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway and Benedict College President Roslyn Clark Artis:
This essay appeared on NJ.com on September 3, 2023.
The cracks in the foundation of our republic are too large to ignore; our democracy is in crisis. Like many Americans, those of us in higher education are deeply concerned. But we also know we have the ability to do something about it.
Higher education is the bulwark that our democracy needs. Colleges and universities bring together students from all across the country with the express task of expanding their minds, assembling different backgrounds, experiences, and points of view. That’s far more diversity than the average American neighborhood.
The years that students spend on campus often involve the closest proximity they will experience in their lifetimes to people who think very differently than they do. It is an incredible opportunity to learn. However, the benefits are only felt if all are free to articulate what they believe and are willing to listen to the convictions of others; otherwise, diversity collapses under the weight of pre-judgment.
In recent years, many of us in academia have had cause for serious concern. We have seen students drown out speakers with whom they disagree, faculty hold back from sharing viewpoints that might be deemed controversial, and politics influencing hiring decisions. Reflecting a lack of openness, a 2022 survey found that nearly half of college sophomores would not choose a roommate who supported another presidential candidate in 2020. This resistance to people and positions that are different is antithetical to the exchange of ideas that should be core to the college experience.
That is why, as our students return to campus, we are standing up for free speech. We each lead very different institutions — one is large and public, one is smaller and a historically Black college — yet we share this fundamental belief: Higher education serves the common good. It is our responsibility to foster academic environments where young people can become thoughtful citizens who contribute to our society and advance our democracy. That is only possible if we promote the right to articulate opinions without fear of reprisal.
Read the rest of the article on the Rutgers University site.