An Open Letter on the Controversy at ColumbiaRoundup: Talking About History
The following statement is circulating at Columbia University. It was forwarded to HNN on 3-9-05.
During the past several months, Columbia University has been subjected to an extraordinary series of attacks impugning its reputation as a center of learning that welcomes students and scholars with a diverse range of points of view and similarly diverse backgrounds, loyalties, and commitments. Many of the allegations that have been made during this campaign--allegations that have attempted to create the impression that an atmosphere of intolerance exists at Columbia--are blatantly false. In many ways, they betray a failure to understand the mission and character of research universities and their contributions to modern life.
Columbia, like a number of its peer institutions, is a great center of teaching, inquiry, and research. Its primary missions are to transmit knowledge and to generate new knowledge. Thriving research universities in the United States have contributed immensely to the national welfare in areas that range from scientific advances to improvements in our historical understanding to discoveries that have led to numerous inventions of importance to people in all walks of life.
Universities will continue to make important contributions only insofar as they allow faculty and students to explore and develop their ideas freely and to expose those ideas to robust and uninhibited debate in an atmosphere of civility both inside and outside the classroom. Some of these ideas-including some of the best among them--will be unwelcome, unsettling, or offensive to many people when they are first articulated. That is as it should be. Universities contribute to American life primarily because they foster innovative ideas, and innovation is by nature unsettling. No one associated with the Columbia community-including students, faculty, and others-should have reason to fear reprisals or sanctions of any kind for expressing unorthodox or unpopular views of any political stripe.
Universities have a responsibility for ensuring that teaching and inquiry under their auspices are conducted in an atmosphere that is characterized by civility and freedom from intimidation, physical assault, or violations of rights. Within the context of a university, however, neither faculty nor students have a right to be shielded from disagreeable or unfamiliar ideas, the production of which is integral to the mission of the university. We urge all those who take note of or have taken part in the current outside campaign, which aims to pressure Columbia into censorship of its own faculty, to remember that a commitment to freedom of thought and speech is fundamental to the modern university.
Lila Abu-Lughod, Anthropology
Charles Armstrong, History
Helen Benedict, Journalism
Elizabeth Blackmar, History
Douglas Chalmers, Political Science
Partha Chatterjee, Anthropology
Lewis Cole, Film
John Collins, Philosophy
Victoria de Grazia, History
Jon Elster, Political Science
Joan Ferrante, English
Barbara Fields, History
Eric Foner, History
Eugene Galanter, Psychology
Herbert J. Gans, Sociology
Lynn Garafola, Dance
Todd Gitlin, Journalism
Robert Hanning, English
William V. Harris, History
Andreas Huyssen, German
Robert Jervis, Political Science
David C. Johnston, Political Science
Mark Kesselman, Political Science
Alice Kessler-Harris, History
Philip Kitcher, Philosophy
David H. Krantz, Psychology
Edward Mendelson, English
Christia Mercer, Philosophy
Brinkley Messick, Anthropology
Rosalind Morris, Anthropology
Keith Moxey, Art History
Andrew J. Nathan, Political Science
Fred Neuhouser, Philosophy
Gary Y. Okihiro, Ethnic Studies
Thomas Pogge, Philosophy
Wayne Proudfoot, Religion
David Rosner, History
James Schamus, Film
Eliott Sclar, Architecture
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, English
Anders Stephanson, History
Michael Thaddeus, Mathematics
Charles Tilly, Sociology
Gwendolyn Wright, Architecture
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