Rights of Free Speech and Academic Freedom

As a public research university, the University of California, Irvine pursues three interlinked goals: UCI serves as a repository of the world’s existing knowledge, ensuring that nothing is lost or forgotten; it follows new lines of inquiry and creates new knowledge; and it transmits both old and new knowledge to its students so that they are prepared to lead productive and responsible lives.

Free speech and academic freedom are essential and indispensable elements of the pursuit of these goals. Without the bedrock of free speech and academic freedom, UCI, its students and our society could be plundered of facts and ideas that some people might find upsetting, distasteful or bothersome.

Throughout history, speech that challenges conventional wisdom has been a driving force for progress. We sometimes forget that many of the views we take for granted today were once considered harmful and deserving of censorship and punishment, including Galileo’s heliocentric model of the solar system, antislavery advocacy, Darwin’s challenge to biblical accounts of the origins of humankind, opposition to American war efforts, the teaching of socialism, civil rights protests, critiques of traditional societal norms, risqué or countercultural popular music, and a lot of modern literature.

Many people were upset, even angered, when the ideas listed above were first brought forward. Free speech is not about attempting to shield people from ideas and opinions they might find unwelcome. Speech that makes us uneasy may compel us to reconsider our own positions. Hearing offensive or even hateful viewpoints provides opportunities for those sentiments to be exposed, engaged and rebutted.

As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis advised in his famous Whitney v. California opinion in 1927, “if there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

If our commitment to freedom and democracy leads us to defend the rights of free speech, our commitment to scholarly inquiry and education leads us to promote norms and practices that enable us to learn from each other in an atmosphere of positive engagement and mutual respect.