Emory alumni speak

Emory University alumnus Ed Thayer (’05C) forwards us a copy of an open letter signed by him and several other Emory alums. He writes: “This latest episode at Emory has struck a nerve with a segment of alumni and over the weekend we penned the letter below. Glenn Reynolds at InstaPundit posted the letter we wrote this morning and since you and your blog have been covering this issue very well, we would love to reach as broad an audience as possible to start combating this rot from the alumni perspective.” Here is the alumni letter:

How Emory has changed. Once a world-renowned university that attracted scholars from across the globe, a university that encouraged diverse intellectual pursuits, Emory has apparently become a day-care where children must be shielded from “bad thoughts” lest their feelings be harmed. And the administration has officially endorsed this shift.

We are writing not to highlight the absurdity of those who believe they are physically harmed by encountering political speech with which they disagree, as this is, or should be, clear to any observer. Instead, we are writing to express our disappointment with the recent actions of the Emory administration. For the first time, we are embarrassed to call ourselves Emory graduates.

As the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Washington Post and other media outlets recently reported, a small contingent of vocal Emory students claimed to have been harmed on campus and stormed the office of the president of the university in protest. The locus of this alleged harm? Chalked political slogans featuring the name of a leading presidential candidate. What should have become an opportune teaching moment to instruct students in the value of free speech and healthy debate, once radical ideas that serve as the foundation of American society, morphed into something else entirely. President Wagner, and by virtue of his position, Emory itself, officially endorsed the opposite: the rights of all to freely express their political views must give way in the event some believe their feelings are harmed by such speech. Indeed, as President Wagner stated in a recent campus-wide e-mail in response to the student-led protest, it is now Emory’s policy to recognize the “calls to provide a safe environment”. Freely expressing a constitutionally protected right, in Wagner’s view, creates an unsafe environment. Let the implications sink in.

No longer does Emory University serve as a beacon of intellectual diversity attracting some of the best and brightest young adults from across the world, much as it attracted us. Instead, Emory has become just another school in the well-documented pattern of universities that have surrendered to the demands of a vocal few that emotional comfort, ideological conformity and yes, “safe environments” trump fundamental notions of free speech. Critical thinking and exposure to other opinions are unwanted. But this does not have to be how the story ends. It is vitally important that we respond to this trend by reaffirming our foundational notions of freedom. Unfortunately, President Wagner and Emory University have thus far failed to rise to the challenge.

We call for President Wagner and the full administrative body of Emory University to publicly acknowledge the intrinsic value of free speech and the right of all to engage in spirited political debate. By letting a small cadre of overly sensitive students effect a heckler’s veto on a universal right, President Wagner and Emory University have contributed to the erosion of fundamental freedom in this country. It is incumbent on all to fight to protect free speech, especially speech that might be unpopular or viewed by some as “dangerous.” And fight we will.

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