Respectful engagement around difficult issues
October 13, 2021 3:32 PM

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

Academic freedom and free speech are the bedrock of both democracy and of this university. Rigorous debate and fearless intellect have pioneered the novel ideas and discoveries that earned the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign its global reputation for excellence.

Universities and the communities in which we live, study and work are becoming more prominent focal points for intense debate around many of the most divisive and most contentious matters in our global society. This is not a point of alarm. It is, in fact, a reaffirmation of our mission. We can find ready examples across the nation and on our own campus of causes across the entire spectrum of political, religious and social issues. We saw this recently at a protest by several student groups about the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

However, with regularity in our society today, we are seeing more instances where disagreement, debate and protests around divisive and difficult issues employ rhetoric, language and actions that invite and provoke violence and damage. These tactics constitute a betrayal, not a vindication, of the bedrock purposes of academic freedom and free speech.

We can and should feel free to dispute, debate and challenge ideas and opinions as we choose. But we must help our community learn to do so in ways that preserve human dignity and recognize the lived experiences of others.

Disagreement and respect for those who disagree with us are not incompatible. But calls for violence or harm toward others under the guise of expression of free speech are antithetical to our values. We will always condemn actions that target our students, faculty, staff or other members of our community. Words matter and those that incite violence will never be acceptable here at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. 


Robert J. Jones

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