Journey to Understanding and Knowledge
year we welcome new students and colleagues who bring fresh energy
and ideas to the Penn community.
an academic community, we eagerly examine and explore issues in
depth. We pick apart one another's arguments, theories, and papers--because
we know that the impact of different views and perspectives strengthens
our work. We joyfully seize the challenge to considersociety's
most vexing and intractable problems.
other milieu, I believe, even comes close to a university campus
for sheer intellectual exuberance. The Penn community derives
its intellectual vitality from a fundamental and unshakeable commitment
to freedom of thought, inquiry, association, and of expression.
We provide open forums for critical thinking and informed discussions.
We also provide safe haven for the widest possible range of opinions,
from the brilliant and sublime even to the scurrilous and ridiculous.
we begin a new academic year so close to the first anniversary
of September 11, we continue to feel both collective anguish over
the tragedy that befell our country, and collective apprehension
over what is yet to come. During these uncertain times of escalating
tensions and peril, I believe it becomes more important for all
of us to reaffirm and renew our commitment to the values of academic
values include unfettered freedom of expression, the importance
of civic engagement in every aspect of University's life, and
robust, honest engagement with those with whom we disagree.
next year may put these values to the test as the Penn community
confronts many issues that undoubtedly will stir up strong emotions
and profoundly serious disagreements among us. Whether we are
debating issues right at home, such as graduate student unionization,
or those that hit close to home, such as the tragic conflict in
the Middle East, we face a very tall order: How do we encourage
thoughtful discourse and debate while at the same time allowing
all voices to be heard?
educators, we teach our students to explore issues thoroughly.
We draw distinctions between informed arguments steeped in civility
and reason on one hand, and repulsive rants steeped in hatred
and nonsense on the other. We know how much knowledge and understanding
our students gain from the former. We despair over the pain and
anger the latter creates among members of the Penn community.
expect the coming year to be filled with the kind of intrepid
explorations and robust discussions worthy of a great University
and its superb faculty, students, and staff. I would also hope
and expect that members of our community will refrain from speech,
gestures, or actions solely intended to rip us asunder.
we must also anticipate that someone on the Penn campus may uncork
a nasty brew of vicious comments that seek to marginalize or dehumanize
a segment of our campus community.
and when that happens, how should we respond?
might argue that some views are so heinous and hateful to a community
that anyone who expresses them should be condemned, punished,
or even expelled. However, if we cherish freedom of expression
as a core academic value, then we must resist the urge to use
the power of the University or the presidency to silence any lawful
speech or flatten any speaker who expresses hateful and despicable
defense of free speech does not mean we therefore remain aloof
either to the pain felt by groups who are the targets of hate
speech, or to their deeply felt concerns for their own safety.
the contrary, the University will go to great lengths to provide
the resources to support thoughtful, reasoned dialogue and debate.
We will not hesitate to call upon Public Safety, the Chaplain's
Office, or University Life to provide whatever protection and
support is needed to promote a physically safe environment for
all members of the campus community, including groups who have
suffered religious and ethnic prejudice in the wake of September
the past, some members of the Penn community have mistakenly interpreted
my refusal to condemn specific speech publicly as a sign of personal
or institutional insensitivity or indifference.
I churn in dismay and disgust at the offensiveness and ignorance
of views expressed by a minuscule number of people in the Penn
community. But I also don't believe that presidential condemnations
of specific speech strengthen our academic community. To the contrary,
they tend to stop the debate dead in its tracks.
believe we are better off using even the most objectionable speech
as a catalyst to a productive, illuminating, and inclusive conversation
that becomes a forum for reasoned and thoughtful ideas.
hateful ideas will crumble under the weight of relentless scrutiny
and informed debate.
recent years, members of the Penn community have responded to
incidents of hate speech by turning understandable outrage into
creative engagement. Just over the past year, I have observed
a passionate determination by Muslims, Jews, and Christians on
campus to forge a true interfaith dialogue. I know I can always
count on the Penn community to harness its passion and acumen
to remain vigorously and constructively engaged.
begin the new academic year in this spirit of "spirited"
engagement with each other as a continuing public conversation
and collective enterprise through which we build the kind of robust
and creative academic community we all desire. The academic community
of Penn, which persists in the face of rapid and far-reaching
changes, will be strengthened and enhanced to the benefit of all.
Let our journey to understanding and knowledge go forward.