Free Speech and Institutional Responsibility

President Biddy Martin

September 8, 2013

Last weekend I had the pleasure of hearing a “point-counterpoint discussion” between two Amherst alumni, both of whom have argued before the Supreme Court in landmark civil rights cases. Paul Smith ’76 and Bert Rein ’61 explained the differences in their theories of the Constitution, gave their interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment, and respectfully but also firmly disagreed about the wisdom of affirmative action policies in college admissions. Listening to their conversation, I was again reminded of the distinctive responsibility of colleges and universities to protect spaces for freedom of expression so that the force of argument can help us resolve the hardest of problems.  Civil, intelligent, and carefully reasoned debates like the one last weekend have become far too rare. I am glad it took place on a campus known for its intellectual rigor and holistic admissions, as well as its commitment to enrolling and educating a socio-economically, racially, and ethnically diverse student body.