UC President Writes Op-Ed on Free Speech

The Boston Globe published an op-ed piece by UC President Janet Napolitano on Oct. 2, which called for a revival of free speech on campus. Napolitano acknowledges the developing demographic of college campuses but maintains her stance that unfettered discussions are what create critical and creative thinkers.

Napolitano wrote that college campuses have moved from freedom of speech to freedom from speech where speakers are disinvited, faculty vilified and administrators forced to intervene.

After a similar string of criticism and protests, the dean of students at the University of Chicago recently declared that the University doesn’t support trigger warnings or spaces, a declaration with which Napolitano disagrees.

“Even free speech has its limits: time, place and manner restrictions, for instance,” Napolitano wrote in her article. “At [the UC campuses], we have many different types of student centers. … Some of our newest are for undocumented students. You can call these ‘safe spaces,’ but I call them a good idea.”

In regards to trigger warnings however, Napolitano believes it is adequate if a professor says that the reading or class will explore sensitive topics such as race.

Eleanor Roosevelt College junior Melissa Vajanaphanich agrees with the current cautionary procedure to avoid exacerbating the problem.

“I don’t think the current trigger warnings should be made more explicit, because by bringing more attention to it, you’re creating an issue that doesn’t need to be created,” Vajanaphanich told the UCSD Guardian. “People who weren’t aware of the problem might begin to assume and associate.”

Napolitano stresses the importance of difficult subject matters, especially in humanities and social sciences, where the objective is to encourage intellectual discourse among students. However, she also brings attention to incidences where students attempt to shut down or prevent speakers from appearing.

“The way to deal with extreme, unfounded speech is not with less speech — it is with more speech, informed by facts and persuasive argument,” Napolitano wrote. “Educating students from an informed “more speech” approach as opposed to silencing an objectionable speaker should be one of academia’s key roles. After all, these students will graduate into a country where objectionable speech is the current coin of the realm.”

Vajanaphanich added on to Napolitano’s statement, advocating for freedom of speech with possible exceptions when necessary.

“If you suppress new ideas or radical concepts, then you’re infringing on an environment where people can think freely and explore new topics,” Vajanaphanich said. “I think it’s important that people get to say what they want, and if it’s the case where they’re saying something so wrong and radical, then we can institute new laws to prevent against it.”

Napolitano herself has been exposed to public criticism ever since she became UC President in Sept. 2013.

During Napolitano’s UC system-wide listening tour in 2013, she was condemned for her deportation record as secretary of homeland security as well as inexperience in the professional academic field by UC undergraduates who walked out before Napolitano could respond.