President Rose on the “Opportunities and Challenges of Free Speech on Campus”

President Clayton Rose is one of three college presidents asked to weigh in on the challenges of a free speech “balancing act” on campuses as America approaches the one-year anniversary of a white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Echoing themes about discourse, engaging those with different points of view and developing “intellectual fearlessness” that he has advocated throughout his tenure at Bowdoin, Rose offered that Charlottesville 2017 was not at all about free speech—it was simply a provocation by despicable people, one that he condemned last summer in a message to the Bowdoin community.

In The Conversation piece “How free should speech be on campus?” Rose writes that Charlottesville cannot be allowed to detract from the real work necessary to “understand the issues and challenges embedded in the hardest, fiercest problems we face today.”

“The events of last summer have nothing to do with the opportunities and challenges of free speech on campus. There are critical issues that divide us as a society and that must be openly discussed on campuses across the country—issues like economic, political and social opportunity, immigration, the environment and privacy. Our students need to develop the skills and sensibility for thoughtful and respectful discourse on these divisive topics—something that has all but disappeared in our cable news society.”

According to Rose, the best way to develop these skills is for colleges and universities to remain places “…where students can test deeply held beliefs, examine ideas that might profoundly unsettle and may even offend, and where they can challenge each other and campus guests in ways that sharpen or change their thinking by engaging facts, data, analysis and reason.”

In addition to Rose, The Conversation “presidents’ panel” discussion on free speech includes the views of the presidents of Elon University and the University of Washington.

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