Kat Leon/PSU Vanguard

Letter to the Editor

Academic freedom and speech

Editor’s Note: The perspectives and opinions printed in this Letter to the Editor are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the positions of Portland State Vanguard or its editorial staff.


I, like many members of the PSU community, was shocked to see the destruction to our library since it is the “sacred” center of our university, and a vital resource for students, staff, and faculty. This is not a letter to discuss the issue surrounding the recent occupation, but these events led me to believe that we must affirm the right to academic freedom and speech on our campus, yet also separate speech and academic freedom from criminal activity.

We must defend speech and academic freedom – even if we find the speech of others deeply offensive and even hurtful – if we seek to do the work of a university. While some on our campus have sought to redefine academic freedom in ways meant to limit academic freedom, and others have used their right to academic freedom and the First Amendment to say things some have found problematic, I nevertheless have supported, and continue to support all of their right to say things I may find problematic and even offensive. 

When faculty, students, and guests of the university say things we disagree with, we have the right to ask them to defend their ideas, to provide evidence to support their viewpoints, and we have the right to offer facts to refute their point of view. In this way we preserve academic freedom even if it means we have to allow people to upset us.

We have to allow spaces for the open exchange and discussion of controversial ideas. This means we must create space for the exploration of opposing viewpoints and opinions. If faculty, students, and guests of the university disagree with one another, they must do so in a civil manner. They must allow for each other to speak and not be spoken over. We each should have the opportunity to share views, ask questions, air opinions, and demand answers from others.  

We are here to grow in conversation, debate, and even disagreement with one another, and that is the work of the university. Let’s make sure we engage in discussions that are important to our times, in a way that preserves academic integrity, academic freedom, and the first amendment, and yet does not descend into destruction of the things that make our university the learning space that it is.