• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).

Title

Now Is the Time ...

... to speak out.

August 16, 2017
 
 

I concluded my last post with the plea that associations and campus leaders stand up collectively for the underlying values of American higher education of free speech and civil rights. Written on Sunday, that post now has had the poignant events of this week to reinforce the point. 
 
Freedom of speech and religious expression provide for people to say or believe whatever they like. Those beliefs do not allow for the violation of law, however. There are exceptions to the freedom of expression and belief such as incitement of violence; time, place and manner restrictions; disturbance of the peace; state gun control laws etc. Moreover, other criminal acts are not excused by a claim of free speech or religious belief, such as the famous “crying fire in a crowded theater” concept or the recent actual example of driving of a car into a crowd of people.

Civil rights are the law of the land. Constitutional protections exist for protected categories of people in terms such as race, national origin, and sex. In other words, governmental entities cannot discriminate against those groups. Civil law establishes those protections in public spaces operated by private entities such as restaurants, hotels, schools and workplaces; these laws further extend protection against discrimination to those with disabilities or, for age, to those private entities that receive federal funds. 
 
Higher education embraces those positions by virtue of its missions.  In contemporary American society, teaching, research and outreach function on the foundation of free inquiry and equal access. Institutional autonomy allows for the creation of inclusive representations of people from various social classes, racial backgrounds, national and ethnic groups in admissions.  Our colleges and universities are better at doing our jobs as public servants and for the betterment of American society because we uphold free speech and civil rights.
 
It is time for association and campus leaders to say that publicly. Most do, honorably and eloquently, to their campuses, but this plea goes to a hope that they extend their voice to a wider audience that reaches the American people and international community at large. Many people may be very confused by contemporary events and look for inspired leadership at times like this. What are our institutions for if not to help educate in the name of citizenship in a democratic republic?  In reaction to the support that President Trump has given to white supremacists, neo-Nazi and other like groups, many of the country’s top business and corporate leaders are leaving presidential advisory groups and/or speaking out on these issues. Together and with a clear voice, higher education leaders should take a cue from them and join in a chorus that speaks for the principles of the American higher education landscape.  

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