Our Commitment to Free Expression and to Each Other

April 18, 2023

Dear UAlbany Community, 
Recent national and local events remind us of the importance of having challenging conversations about free speech.

Free speech is fundamental to our democratic society and it is embedded in our civic identity. It is also the foundation of the inquiry, scholarship, and debate that help define the power of higher education. Without it, we could not develop critical thinking; engage in spirited discussions about controversial issues; question conventional wisdom and our traditional ways of doing things; or express the diversity of ideas that characterize our communities.

Without free speech protections, we would not have Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech or much of the Civil Rights movement. College students would not have spoken out against the war in Vietnam. The fight against AIDS would not have advanced, and George Floyd’s murder could not have served as the powerful call to action it became. Thanks to freedom of expression, we can speak out about the inequities in our society. And because of it, we are better off today than yesterday.

Free speech protects us all, even when it might feel like it doesn’t.

How can an issue so fundamental to who we are as voters, scholars, and members of a democratic community be so challenging? Free speech takes work, and commitment. It also requires our responsibility to protect the free speech rights of those with whom we agree and those with whom we might vehemently disagree. To protect our rights, we must also protect the rights of others.

Protecting the rights of others requires UAlbany, as a public university, to provide a designated public forum on campus for third parties to exercise free speech. We know that some of these events can be challenging for those who may find the content offensive. This is often especially true for our friends, classmates, and colleagues who belong to historically marginalized communities – and for those of us who consider ourselves their allies.

However, the answer is not to limit speech, but to lift them up and support them along their journey at our institution. Further, as a thriving and diverse community, we can engage in thoughtful dialogue and peaceful protests to counter messages with which we disagree. We can have critical discussions, challenging the beliefs of those who hold prejudices. This is central to who we are as a community of learning.

On this point, let me be clear, the University at Albany is unconditionally and unequivocally committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our values and actions as one of the most diverse public research institutions in the country define who we are and our path forward. We vehemently reject all forms of bias and racism, as well as attempts to undermine our progress, and we will continue to take steps to support and ensure the success of all our students.

As I write this, I am reminded of what Vice President Michael Christakis and Samuel Caldwell, our chief diversity officer, wrote about ten days ago – that this inclusive part of our identity need not conflict with our obligation to protect speech.

I also believe that, in addition to our legal commitments under the First Amendment, our institutional values compel us to lead with grace in our interactions with one another.

We do not need to agree in order to co-exist as neighbors, classmates, and colleagues. We can embrace our diversity of thought and expression while also treating each other with dignity and respect. This is who we are and whom we must continually aspire to be.


Signature of Havidan Rodriguez

Havidán Rodríguez