November 9, 2014

EDITORIAL: Respecting and Preserving Free Speech On Campus

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Two weeks ago, placards about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that were placed in the Arts Quad by Students for Justice in Palestine were repeatedly dismantled and vandalized by unknown perpetrators. The 50 SJP signs — which described Israeli home demolition, segregation and wartime policies, among other things — were permitted by the University, which regularly allows student groups to erect placards on the Arts Quad. The incident sparked a social media outcry by SJP, whose members believe the vandalism is indicative of a campus environment that is hostile to the expression of controversial ideas. We at The Sun condemn the destruction of the display, and urge respect for ideas within the University community that are unpopular and contentious.

Historically, Cornell has served as a bastion of free speech; its rich and varied activist culture has given rise to several successful student movements, including ones that have championed the anti-war, civil rights, anti-apartheid and LGBT rights causes. Respect for free expression is codified in the University’s Code of Conduct, which states that “a university has an essential dependence on a commitment to the values of unintimidated speech” and declares it a violation to “interfere with the lawful exercise of freedom of speech.” In order to protect and encourage political expression and exchange, the University provides channels through which groups can publicize information pertaining to their respective causes — including the opportunity to place informative signs in the Arts Quad. However, in the absence of a climate of civility among students, these avenues will undoubtedly fail to facilitate healthy political discourse.Indeed, the uncivil acts of vandalism in the Arts Quad served not only to attempt to silence SJP, but to degrade and impair the University community’s commitment to free speech.

We at The Sun believe that controversial ideas are not to be feared, but respected and vigorously debated. Surely, uninhibited discourse is indispensable to our cherished institution of higher learning. With this in mind, we encourage the University to take a proactive role in protecting speech on campus. Further, we urge all members of the University community to respect channels that have been established to encourage expression and conversation.