The Power of Words, Continued

February 12, 2014 - Chaouki Abdallah

In last week’s Communiqué, in the section “The Power of Words,” I wrote about a recent incident on campus involving a racial slur. That section has generated a number of comments, some which expressed a concern about free speech on campus, and others which expressed a concern about racism on campus. While I do not believe attempting to end this particular kind of incident is a threat to our academic mission, attempts to limit speech should, in general, be considered carefully, and should be the occasion for campus dialogue. The comments I received represent two values that occasionally come into conflict, and which we are most concerned to hold simultaneously at UNM: protecting the integrity of the academic mission from censorship and suppression, and creating a safe and welcoming environment for everyone here. It is possible to do both. In fact, a commitment to avoiding personal attacks, threats, and intimidation is at the same time a commitment to principles of critical reasoning. Hurtful language is, most often, unjustifiable on either moral or logical grounds. It is possible, therefore, to preserve the “marketplace of ideas,” the free exchange of information and opinion, and at the same time to be kind to others. Our academic mission requires us, as John Stuart Mill advised, to follow arguments to their logical ends, which may be beyond the bounds of “social embarrassment.” Following arguments to ends, however, requires the exercise of sound reasoning, a focus on ideas and the evidence for them, and an absence of personal attacks. Considering the importance of this topic to our mission, I encourage you to contribute your thoughts and concerns here.