Rutgers President on Free Speech and Academic Freedom

From time to time, people in and outside the Rutgers community have raised concerns regarding comments and expressions made by Rutgers faculty members, by students, and by speakers on our campuses who have been guests of student organizations. Some of the comments, expressions, and displays have been offensive to many people and have been inconsistent with the commitment Rutgers has to reasoned discussion and balanced points of view. Such comments do not represent the position of the University, nor should they be construed as having been expressed on behalf of the University.

Having said that, all of the members of our community—our faculty members, students, alumni, and staff—are free to express their viewpoints in public forums as private citizens, including viewpoints that the University itself or I personally may not share. And we do not restrict the activities of recognized university organizations, including the speakers they invite to campus, as long as these organizations obey the law and follow University policy and guidelines regarding these events.

Furthermore, academic freedom—the right of our faculty in the discharge of their duties to express their ideas and to challenge the ideas of others without fear of retribution—is a cornerstone of American higher education. Our University is a community of diverse ideas; we value academic freedom’s protections that enable our faculty to state their views and engage in lively discourse.  At Rutgers we encourage our faculty to explore new and sometimes controversial ideas and to subject assumptions to scrutiny, all within the boundaries of civil and respectful discourse, which academic freedom requires.

Both academic freedom and our First Amendment rights are at the core of what we do. Our University policy on speech is clear. All members of our community enjoy the rights of free expression guaranteed by the First Amendment. Faculty members, as private citizens, enjoy the same freedoms of speech and expression as any private citizen and shall be free from institutional discipline in the exercise of these rights. In addition, they also enjoy academic freedom of expression when functioning in their roles as faculty members. In all cases, however, the conduct of a faculty member must be in accordance with standards dictated by law.

While I will not defend the content of every opinion expressed by every member of our academic community, or of speakers who we invite to our campus, I will defend their right to speak freely. That freedom is fundamental to our University, our society, and our nation.