The Candor

Benedictine University Should Establish a Policy that Protects Free Speech on Campus

Omair Ali

Perspectives Editor

Benedictine Identity Supports Openness to New Perspectives

With the way other university student bodies have treated many of their invited guest speakers, it is not unreasonable to assume that controversial guest speakers who are invited to speak at Benedictine University could be welcomed with similar disrespect by students. Thus, it is appropriate for Benedictine University to take a clear position on how it wishes to support free speech and how it wants to accommodate guest speakers on campus. This can be facilitated by Benedictine’s hallmarks, which provide the basis for which Benedictine maintains its identity and Catholic values.

The hallmark Conversatio calls on “all members of the campus… to move out of their comfort zones for the sake of learning, authenticity and integrity.” The hallmark Obedience advises that “everyone in a Benedictine educational institution must learn to listen well in order to grow in wisdom.”  Finally, the hallmark Hospitality states that Benedictine University should “attempt to cultivate skills for openly and wisely engaging new ideas and perspectives.” The aforementioned hallmarks call for thoughtful and respectful inquiry of perspectives that also leaves enough room for permitting disagreement.

If the hallmarks indeed describe Benedictine University’s mission and identity, then these statements are an indication of the necessity of free speech and an openness to new ideas.

Does this mean that Benedictine University ought to be welcoming of a pro-choice advocate, a xenophobe, or even political agitators?

This depends on the interpretation of Benedictine University’s hallmarks and Catholic values, which could offer certain restrictions that censor speakers that would not inspire constructive discourse on campus. Nevertheless, having a speaker to this university who might support an odious world view should not suggest that he or she be shouted down, interrupted, assaulted, or illegally threatened. If the community is severely offended by a speaker’s speech, then the speaker’s perspective should later be balanced by an alternative view. If there are students, staff, or members of the community who would prefer to disparage or hinder a speaker should refrain from attending because their disrespect does not allow for productive discourse that is much-needed in intellectual communities.

Benedictine University Should Permit Contemplation of Uncomfortable Ideas

Before serious problems would ever arise on this campus, Benedictine University, like other institutions, should make a formal statement about free speech that elaborates what instances of free speech are allowed and what instances are not. Although an authoritative stance on protecting free speech would certainly be met with criticism, it is a necessary measure that preserves Benedictine University’s apparent motive as a sanctuary for sustainable dialogue and the development of intellectual thinking. However, if Benedictine University was to perpetuate the same conditions existing on other campuses by propagating an echo chamber of comfortable homogeneity (the university has not yet done this), then the community would run the risk of being controlled by the same ignominious forces in other communities that aim to propagate their own speech and deny others their equally legal right to free speech.

If you would like to follow-up with the writer with any comments about this article, you may reach him by email at Omair_Ali@ben.edu