As a community and as individuals we are shocked and saddened by the deadly, violent events in Charlottesville yesterday, and we grieve for the victims and their families. I fully agree with Penn President Amy Gutmann’s statement today that said, "The racism, anti-Semitism, and other bigotry expressed by the neo-Nazi, KKK and other white supremacist groups that demonstrated in Charlottesville is deeply abhorrent and calls for universal condemnation. The hatred espoused is inimical to any decent society and anathema to the most fundamental ideals of our University."
As a law school we are unwavering advocates for free speech and open expression, and that includes vociferous condemnation of those who use violence or hatred to forward their aims or silence those who disagree with them.
These tragic events follow a few days after a controversial op-ed about relative cultural worth written by two tenured legal scholars, one of whom teaches at Penn Law School. Although uncoordinated and substantively distinct, the contemporaneous occurrence of these two events has generated widespread discussion both internally and externally about our core values as a university and a nation.
At Penn Law, one of these bedrock values is that every faculty member and student has the right to voice an opinion and to speak for herself or himself. The right to speak, crucial to academic freedom, is just that — a right to make one’s opinion heard. It is a secure platform, not a shield or sanctuary to duck from the predictable criticism that may follow from others exercising their own expressive rights.
Institutionally and collectively we must permit every student and faculty member to speak, but we need not remain silent or imply endorsement of all views. In law school, as in life, we may encounter divisive, even noxious, views. Learning about such views teaches us something about the complex world in which we live and work. It is up to each of us to determine where and how we engage, challenge and rebut views with which we strongly disagree. And so, while debate continues, it is important that I state my own personal view that as a scholar and educator I reject emphatically any claim that a single cultural tradition is better than all others.
At Penn Law, our practices reflect a broad vision of academic freedom that prioritizes both a diversity of ideas and a diversity of individuals within our community. The two concepts are symbiotic. Ideas spring from the minds of real people, who are formed in substantial part by their lived experiences in the real world.
Penn Law is strongest when we draw talented students, faculty and staff from the widest possible range of backgrounds to interact with and learn from each other. We remain as committed as ever to achieving that goal.
TED RUGER is Dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law at Penn Law School.