To the New York Medical College Community:
“We fondly hope that the instruction which may flow from this institution, kindly cherished, by advancing the minds of our youth with the growing science of the times, and elevating the views of our citizens generally to the practice of the social duties and the functions of self-government, may ensure to our country the reputation, the safety and prosperity, and all the other blessings which experience proves to result from the cultivation and improvement of the general mind.”
Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Board of Visitors Minutes (1821), ME 19:407
You need not hear from me regarding every headline in the daily news. Indeed, a college Chancellor oversteps his/her bounds by using the pulpit of position to advocate for particular political positions. Duke University’s President Nannerl Keohane taught me years ago that one should only speak publically in one’s capacity as Chancellor/President if the issue is of clear and vital interest to the mission of the university. In the last year I have exercised my prerogative to address you once on a matter of public discourse: attacks on the free movement of people and ideas. It is, however, necessary that I address the campus community again.
The recent violent demonstrations at and adjacent to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, are matters which ought to concern all of us in the higher education community. Thomas Jefferson founded that university with a clearly articulated vision for the central role of higher education in a democracy. We are all, to some extent, the inheritors of Jefferson’s legacy in this regard and we all have a responsibility to defend it.
We must respect the individual’s right to freedom of speech. One of the benefits of free speech is that when people say hateful and foolish things they show themselves to be hateful and foolish. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) observed, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial disease. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants…” When hate speech is exposed to the sunlight of free discourse, it becomes clear that it is hate speech.
What we have witnessed in Charlottesville, however, is far more than hate speech. We have seen a rank attempt to provoke violence, resurrect the contemptible language of racist fascism, and celebrate the imagined glories of a social system based on chattel slavery. We have an obligation within our community of scholars to denounce the hateful actions in Charlottesville that have now cost three innocent lives. We recognize that free speech laws not only protect the promulgators of hate speech but also encourage our obligation to denounce it.
May the mourners for those who have died in Charlottesville be comforted among all those who mourn in Zion and Jerusalem.
New York Medical College was founded in 1860 as a bastion against bigotry in health sciences education. We continue to know where we stand. We shall not be moved.
Edward C. Halperin, M.D., M.A.
Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer
New York Medical College