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Newsletter > September 2006 > "UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT SPEAKS FOR FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS"
UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT SPEAKS FOR FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS
A recent controversy at Northern Kentucky University is worth noting for the statements by the University President, James C. Votruba.
A campus Right to Life organization chose to make its position on abortion known, after going through proper University channels, by placing hundreds of small crosses in an open area on campus.
A campus faculty member, who disagrees with that expression, took it upon herself to invite members in one of her classes to join with her, without any permission to do so, in removing or destroying the crosses.
Northern Kentucky University acted to remove the professor from her classes and placed her on leave from the University because she violated the First Amendment rights of those who placed the crosses to begin with. The faculty member was permitted to retire at the end of the semester.
Those facts are reported here simply as background. The statements by the University President are of relevance to fraternities and other campus organizations that may be required to engage in their own fights to preserve their First Amendment Rights.
President Votruba’s statements offer excellent insight into the nature of a university and its nurturing of such rights. Excerpts from his statement follow:
“One of the important roles that a University must play is to be a forum for debate and analysis concerning the important issues of the day. Often, these issues are surrounded by strident rhetoric and strong emotions, which makes it even more incumbent on the University to create and nurture an intellectual environment in which reason and evidence prevail and where all points of view can be heard….”
“… We are proud that, as a campus, we are not the captive of one ideology or point of view. At their best, universities are not places of comfortable conformity. They are places where ideas collide as students and faculty search for deeper understandings and perspectives.”
“While the University supports the right to free speech and vigorous debate on public issues, we cannot condone infringement of the rights of others to express themselves in an orderly manner….”
“America is, today, debating a variety of polarizing issues around which people feel great passion. It is not surprising that these strong sentiments find their way onto college campuses. However, our role is to add light to these debates, not more heat. If we don’t serve this role, who will?”1
Fraternities and sororities do, on occasion, find themselves at loggerheads with administrative officials who do not believe in fraternities and sororities and would just as soon regulate them out of existence. Freedom of expression and free speech are grounded in the same constitutional protection of the First Amendment. Even on private college campuses, where constitutional obligations may or may not apply, President Votruba’s comments still are an exceptionally appropriate description of one of the roles of a university.
1 Posted on Northern Kentucky University’s website, April 18, 2006.