President Robert Zimmer rarely seems to shy away from an opportunity to express his unyielding commitment to unrestricted, open discourse. He has spoken about free speech in interviews with The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, and recently discussed free speech with students at Colgate University. It is surprising, then, considering his evident enthusiasm for discussing free speech issues in a national setting, he has not responded to College Council’s now weeks-old invitation to discuss free speech in a public forum on campus. If the University wishes to continue presenting itself as a bastion of free speech, the administration ought to make the same argument to the students, faculty, and staff who will presumably be called on to guard the ramparts.
The remarkable recent development in this long-standing commitment, as CC’s letter points out, is the administration’s decision to wade into the fetid swamp of national controversy over campus speech. It seems likely that this university has something to add to that debate, drawn from its admirable consistency on the issue stretching back decades. But why not begin at home, where a portion of the University community could apparently use some convincing?
The logic of free speech—the idea that a spirited airing of diverse views will bolster the strongest of those views—ought to prompt its supporters to engage with their opponents. If President Zimmer wants to inculcate on campus the values that he evangelizes off campus, publicly making his case in front of the University community would be a good place to start.