President Wiewel addresses free speech on campus

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President Wim Wiewel during a guest lecture at the Smith Memorial Student Union. Chavelin Gonzalez/Vanguard Archives

On the morning of Sept. 27, Portland State President Wim Wiewel emailed a letter to members of the PSU community with the subject line “My thoughts on free speech.”

In the letter, Wiewel commented on the nation’s current political and social environments. “We work hard to make PSU a safe, inclusive and welcoming campus,” Wiewel wrote in his letter. “That can be a challenge at a time when we as a nation are experiencing inflammatory political rhetoric and racial and ethnic unrest.”

The letter emphasized a commitment to protecting free speech and fostering understanding on campus. Wiewel included examples of peaceful demonstrations permitted on campus.

“[A] peaceful protest against armed campus police is allowed,” he wrote. “So is a peaceful demonstration advocating for a border wall.” Both of these examples reference events that occurred on campus throughout the past academic year.

“When speech becomes offensive, we at PSU don’t respond by banning it or censoring the speaker,” Wiewel said. “Instead, I encourage you to provide countervailing views, engage in debate, organize opposition and get involved.”

He referred students who have experienced discrimination or feel they’ve been targeted because of race, ethnicity or otherwise to contact the office of Global Diversity and Inclusion.

Wiewel concluded his letter by reminding readers of his resignation as PSU president, which will take effect at the end of the 2016-17 academic year.

Included below is Wiewel’s full statement:

“Dear PSU community,

Welcome to Portland State for those who are new to our campus this fall, and welcome back to returning students, faculty and staff.

This academic year is an exciting time for PSU. Our U.S. News ranking this month as one of the nation’s top 10 “most innovative” universities reflects our momentum. We are moving forward on a wide array of initiatives to enhance our academic quality, improve the student experience, open new cultural centers, update our campus infrastructure and provide more student resources. We also are working closely with metro business leaders to develop more revenue sources to support students and faculty.

We work hard to make PSU a safe, inclusive and welcoming campus. That can be a challenge at a time when we as a nation are experiencing inflammatory political rhetoric and racial and ethnic unrest.

As a result, this fall will test our commitment to free speech on campus. The bedrock principles embedded in our educational mission as a public university are to value robust debate of ideas and to protect academic freedom.

We want to foster an environment at PSU where you can express yourself freely and at the same time understand that you will be exposed to ideas that will challenge you and you will encounter people you disagree with. Thus, a peaceful protest against armed campus police is allowed. So is a peaceful demonstration advocating for a border wall.

When speech becomes offensive, we at PSU don’t respond by banning it or censoring the speaker. Instead, I encourage you to provide countervailing views, engage in debate, organize opposition and get involved. I also ask that you be respectful and abide by our Student Code of Conduct. Our code supports the right of all people to live and learn in a safe environment that promotes free expression while protecting the rights of others. That means there is no place on our campus for harassment of individuals or discrimination of any kind. If you think you have been targeted because of your ethnicity, religion or have experienced other discrimination, please contact the office of Global Diversity and Inclusion. If you have questions or concerns about student conduct, contact the dean of Student Life.

We take pride in the fact that PSU is the most diverse public university in Oregon and continue to expand programs and resources that support all students.

On a personal note, I am stepping down as PSU president next year, and I intend to work harder than ever in the coming months to complete the goals and fulfill the vision that I had for PSU when I arrived on campus in 2008. My wife, Alice, and I love Portland and Oregon, and this will remain our home.

During these past years, the work of faculty and staff has elevated Portland State to become one of the nation’s leading urban research and educational universities. Our students come from across the nation and the world to take advantage of all the exceptional opportunities, programs and experiences that we have to offer.

Enjoy your fall term, and as always, Go Viks!

Wim Wiewel
President”

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