Op-Ed: An inalienable forum for discovery, debate and discussion
The beginning of a new semester here at the University of Michigan provides a wonderful opportunity to appreciate the amazing educational environment we share, surrounded by outstanding faculty members, expert staff and extraordinarily talented students.
Thanks to you, every moment at the University provides a precious opportunity to learn. Learning takes place in our classrooms, labs, performance halls and libraries. It takes place when we discuss ideas and issues in residence halls, over meals and while socializing.
Learning at the University is enriched by the intellectual breadth and diversity of our university community. The University is fortunate to include such a wonderful range of individual perceptions, scholarly viewpoints and people from every U.S. state and more than 120 countries around the world.
In a place with so many diverse perspectives, however, disagreement is often inevitable. But it can also be invaluable.
The conflict of discordant ideas and opinions — even when it makes us uncomfortable — is an essential feature of an academic community. At the University, we are at our best when our discourse is inclusive and welcoming to conflicting ideas and diverse voices.
It challenges our way of thinking. It helps us grow. It teaches us how to work through problems in groups and express ourselves in ways that bring about positive change. It allows us to take advantage of the full breadth and benefits of a UM education.
Our ability to learn together is guided by core values of the University, including respect, civility and equality. These values are also essential to our educational environment. Speech that is hateful or threatening diminishes learning by inhibiting discussion, and it does not lift up our community.
For the last decade, our “Expect Respect” campaign has focused on these issues in a campus-wide partnership that emphasizes the value we derive from our similarities and our differences. Expect Respect states, “Together, we can create and maintain a respectful and inclusive environment that provides the support and opportunity necessary for each member of our community to prosper and achieve.”
The ability to respectfully and honestly engage with people of differing worldviews is one of the most essential skills we can learn — and teach. As part of our ongoing efforts to engage many views, we will continue to have conversations across campus about the complex intersection of free speech and respect.
We do this not just as educators and students on a campus, but as members of society who aspire to lead in the larger world. These are lessons that apply to the coming months and years, to this election cycle and beyond, as well as to all who pursue knowledge in service of the public good.
For nearly two centuries, we have drawn tremendous intellectual strength from the breadth and diversity of our community. I hope that the University community will always be an inalienable forum for discovery, debate and discussion, a place where respect and disagreement are complementary, where each makes the other stronger and where we all advocate for and learn from their confluence.
It is my honor to learn beside you, the members of the University community.
Mark Schlissel is the president of the University.