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Walking the Free Speech Tightrope: How to Balance Competing Voices with Campus Safety

By University of California, Davis Chancellor Gary S. May:

Editor’s note: The following op-ed was written prior to Tuesday’s protests against a student-organized far-right speaker event on the UC Davis campus.

In today’s highly charged and politicized environment, free speech has become both a weapon and a shield. Increasingly heated and divisive debates about free speech and hate speech are playing out at college campuses across the country. But at universities, free speech remains at the heart of our mission — even when we may profoundly disagree with its conten

At the University of California, Davis, we’ve seen recent hate speech targeting Black Americans, Jewish people, Muslims, Asian Americans and the LGBTQIA+ community. We’ve seen outside groups with their own agendas come to campus with the intention to disrupt and cause damage. We’ve heard calls from students, faculty and staff who want to ban those who express ideologies with which they disagree.

The desire to ban the expression of these ideologies stems from behavior that goes further than speech. The FBI reported last year that hate crimes are on the rise nationally. And the Anti-Defamation League reported antisemitic behavior had increased 34% year over year, with 2,717 incidents nationwide in 2021. That’s the highest number seen in nearly half a century.

Yet, we cannot close off our campuses to people and views we disagree with. We cannot isolate ourselves from bullies or from words that are hurtful, mean-spirited or offensive. Freedom of expression is vital to the higher education mission. 

Read the rest of the article in Higher Ed Dive.