Free speech, diversity central to universities, Princeton professor says in lecture

By Juliana Liévano Uribe
Staff Writer

Princeton Professor Keith Whittington challenged UWF students to tolerate differing opinions and make their voices heard at a lecture on March 21.

“Why Free Speech is Central to the Mission of a University” was held in the Music Hall at the Center for Fine and Performing Arts and was organized by David Ramsey, associate professor in the Department of Government.

“Free speech is under assault in ways that are unusual these days,” Whittington said, referring to the today’s political environment.

He also said that universities remain extremely important institutions in the United States and that free speech is central to the mission of the modern university.

Princeton Professor Keith Whittington, lectured on free speech and tolerating different opinions at UWF on March 21. Photo Credit Princeton University

Scholars and educators protect freedom of speech in universities, Whittington said. “The mission of a university is to produce and disseminate knowledge,” he said.

A central argument was that people should be more open-minded, because there is always a possibility of being wrong. That’s why it’s important to be open to listen what other people have to say, even if they are wrong, he said; everyone should be able to have a voice and let themselves be heard.

“The campus community should include a tolerance for wrong-headedness and an openness to challenge,” Whittington said.

He also spoke about the wonder of diversity in American universities, and how campuses across the nation should welcome this diversity. He said protests can sometimes make people uncomfortable but that ideas facilitate other ideas.

“Protest is primarily designed to structure,” Whittington said. “People can be intimidated. Universities should create an environment where students feel safe and comfortable when expressing their ideas.”

At the end of the lecture, students were able to ask questions, and some even stayed after it was over to talk to the professor.

While the attendance rate was not poor, it could have been better. “I’m never happy, I want more people,” Ramsey said. “We should fill up the room. He’s an important scholar.”

People who did attend said it was very interesting.

Courtney Rullno, senior telecommunications and film major, said it was very important lecture to be having right now, especially because of the atmosphere with the president. Rullno said free speech is even more relevant.

She also added that free speech is not as practiced at UWF as it is at bigger universities. “I think UWF is a university where everybody is their safe groups, where they practice free speech, but not in the community.”

Raissa Lima, senior telecommunications and film major, said, “Anybody that’s willing to speak about a subject, it’s important to just hear it.”

Ramsey said, “I was proud of our students and their civility at listening to the speech.”