Free Speech and Civil Discourse: Our Rights, Our Responsibilities

September 22, 2023

Dear UAlbany Community,

Last week, we convened “Free Speech and Civil Discourse: Our Rights, Our Responsibilities.” Thanks to our partners, Albany Law School, the Constructive Dialogue Institute, the University Libraries, and the New York State Writers Institute, the program was a remarkable success and spurred many conversations. We discussed many complex and complicated, but very important, issues and concerns and provided opportunities to engage in difficult conversations while respecting the rights of others to do the same.

This symposium called attention to issues and challenges confronting college campuses nationwide, including UAlbany. We understand that some members of our community are sometimes disappointed by the fact that we as an institution must protect speech with which some may vehemently disagree.

Nevertheless, freedom of speech is a sacred obligation that America’s founders viewed as critical to the survival of democracy. And, in the end, that obligation protects us all. Laws that only protect speech we agree with do not, in fact, protect any speech at all.

In fact, the most powerful way to meet speech with which you disagree is not by trying to silence or disrupt the speaker, but by using your voice to reaffirm your own values. Over the course of the day, we also heard from many of you who believe that, despite our legal obligation to protect speech, the University can and should do more to support those impacted by hateful and divisive rhetoric. Please know that we take these conversations to heart, and you have our commitment that the University will continue to support all our students in a way that honors our foundational value of inclusive excellence.

The University at Albany is a diverse and inclusive campus, where the exchange of ideas and debate about the day's issues are encouraged. Free speech fosters a vibrant and dynamic academic environment. It allows us to challenge assumptions, explore different perspectives, and cultivate a more profound understanding of the world around us. This is what last week’s symposium, and some of the news stories about the symposium, aimed to foster as well as engaging the University community in these critically important conversations.

We want to express our appreciation to all the faculty, staff, and students who engaged in these important deliberations and who expressed their thoughts, concerns, and recommendations throughout the symposium. Also, thank you to Vice Presidents Melissa Connolly and Michael Christakis for their outstanding leadership and the planning committee who were instrumental to the success of this event.

I encourage our University community to embrace the power of free speech, and let us engage in open, candid, and respectful conversations while we explore new ideas and express our opinions. Free speech is at the heart of our university's mission and central to intellectual inquiry. Through meaningful dialogue, we develop a deeper appreciation for diversity and we continue to bridge the gaps that may divide us.


Signature of Havidan Rodriguez

Havidán Rodríguez