Dear Campus Community:
I write this morning in response to a flyer posted yesterday on the UCCS campus by a non-UCCS group. The flyer references veterans studying at institutions of higher education. UCCS does not endorse and vigorously rejects the offensive viewpoints expressed in the flyer.
This flyer stands at the intersection of two core values for UCCS and higher education.
On the one hand, we recognize the right of people to express their viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are offensive to many in our community. The University of Colorado system adheres to the freedoms embodied in the United States Constitution, which include the freedom of speech contained in the First Amendment.
In doing so, we draw guidance from the words of the United States Supreme Court, which recently reaffirmed that speech touching on social and political matters is within the bounds of constitutional protection. When speech is a matter of public concern, even though it is racist or sexist, it “cannot be restricted simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt” and we “must tolerate insulting, and even outrageous, speech in order to provide adequate ‘breathing space’ to the freedoms protected by the First Amendment.” I reject the notion that we should censor those who denigrate others, as censorship would have silenced many voices over the decades who needed to be heard.
On the other hand, respect for the right of someone to speak should never be taken as endorsing the viewpoints that someone has expressed. The viewpoints that the authors express are against the law. UCCS does not discriminate against veterans. But even more fundamentally, UCCS does not discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, creed, veteran status, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or political philosophy. People earn the right to study at UCCS by virtue of hard work and individual effort, and we do not bar the door.
Beyond the fact that the authors’ position is illegal, it is also wrong. We ascribe to The Board of Regents’ Guiding Principle that the University of Colorado shall always strive to “provide an outstanding, respectful, and responsive living, learning, teaching, and working environment.” Veterans are positive and valued members of our academic and campus community. They bring experience and viewpoints that enrich our discussions.
So do many others. We have learned over time that higher education thrives when many voices join in the conversation. Just as I disagree with anyone who says that we should refuse a UCCS education to someone who ascribes to a religious faith, I disagree with anyone who says that we should refuse veterans a UCCS education.
We recognize the pain caused to many in our community. Consequently, I call upon the UCCS community to recognize the value of free and open discourse, while simultaneously standing firm in the inclusive values of our diverse community. If concerns exist about safe expression of ideas, our faculty and staff work diligently and are available to bridge gaps between disparate viewpoints.
We know our student veterans to be high achieving individuals with diverse viewpoints and values, and all of us are enriched by and fortunate to have the military community represented in our classrooms and campus spaces.