As a part of an institution that includes the legacy of Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Joseph Wilson, the University of Rochester has for generations held a deep and abiding commitment to a diverse and inclusive community. It is a part of what we are, and how we are defined. And that is as true today as at any time in our history: We are not backing off in any respect from that longstanding commitment. We are proud of the progress we have made as an institution, with important contributions from all members of our community-students, faculty, and staff alike.
The University’s statement on-and commitment to-a diverse and inclusive community is expressed, in clear and forthright terms, at http://www.rochester.edu/diversity/mission.html. Because it is important that this com-mitment be clearly visible to all members of our community, we repeat the opening para-graph here:
The University of Rochester envisions itself as a community that welcomes, en-courages, and supports individuals who desire to contribute to and benefit from the institution’s missions of teaching, research, patient care, performance, and community service. In a pluralistic culture, that community includes faculty, students, and staff who represent important differences. Members of the Univer-sity’s community come from different geographical areas, represent differences in ethnicities, religious beliefs, values, and points of view; they may be physi-cally different, have different intellectual interests, or have different abilities. The University not only welcomes such differences in the members of its com-munity, but, in fulfilling its own missions and in preparing the leaders of tomor-row’s world who will necessarily be operating in an equally wide-ranging envi-ronment, it actively seeks to recruit and include them in all aspects of the insti-tution’s operations.
The Provost, as chief academic officer of the institution, working together with Univer-sity Counsel, has been formulating a related “Statement of Educational Philosophy” con-sistent with our existing commitment, that ultimately will be endorsed by our Board of Trustees and can be used to maximize every opportunity in diversity and inclusivity as supported by last summer’s Supreme Court cases. It is important that student input on this be gained as well, as our students provide valuable perspective that can give shape to this important statement. The draft statement is linked to the Provost’s home page (www.rochester.edu/provost). The Provost welcomes comments that can help shape this statement, and urges student-as well as other members of our community-to avail themselves of this opportunity.
We believe it is important to distinguish between the University’s commitment to a diverse and inclusive community (including its full support of the Supreme Court’s de-cisions involving the University of Michigan), which is unwavering and has not changed, and the right of individual members of this community to take stances that might be in opposition to that deeply-held University value.
In this context, we would like to reiterate two things about the bake sale. First, in pricing cookies differentially based on the race of the buyer-as a way of suggesting that educational decisions are “priced” in the same way as their cookies-the Young Republi-cans, we believe, fundamentally misunderstand the nature of how this University goes about creating and sustaining an inclusive and diverse community. All University admis-sions procedures give individual consideration to each applicant and, since we are a se-lective institution, we take many factors into account to determine which students will best contribute to the learning dynamic on campus and also will personally benefit from the education we offer. Given this, it is important to understand that a class is built based not just on a consideration of what inclusion in that class might mean for the individual student, but also based on a consideration of what each member of the class that is as-sembled can contribute to the education of others. Because of that, each member of this community is selected by considering his or her potential contributions to the overall value of our educational environment and therefore is an equally-valuable member of our University. This is in sharp contradistinction to the underlying message, as we under-stand it, of the bake sale. Since education cannot be equated to cookies, the method of assembling a class here, given the University’s values, is sharply distinct from the method used in the bake sale to price cookies.
Second, while the University’s commitment to an inclusive and diverse commu-nity is both strong and unchanged, it is also the right of individual members of this com-munity to express their disagreement with this, or indeed any other, University policy. To be sure, our starting point should be a hope that members of our community, com-mitted to the notion that a University community is a fragile thing, do so with a norm of civil discourse that is as respectful as possible of all members of our community. At the same time, a University should, as much as any place in society, prize as well all forms of speech-even symbolic speech (which, by its definition, is not a precise portrayal of the circumstances it is designed to evoke), even if provocative. Indeed, it is most important to protect speech when it incites strong passions, for the protection of speech means little if it protects only what we agree with. This is captured perfectly-albeit outside of the university setting-in the following quote from the Supreme Court: “To endure the speech of false ideas or offensive content and then to counter it is part of learning how to live in a pluralistic society, a society which insists upon open discourse towards the end of a tolerant citizenry.” (Lee v. Weisman, 1992.)
That statement, we believe, applies with equal or greater force to a university. A university community, interested in teaching and learning, must expect that events in the surrounding world may have passionate believers within our community, who express their convictions in passionate ways, sometimes in ways that offend other members of our community who have passionately different views. The right way to respond is by expressing reasoned arguments that support the passion of others as well. But when the Young Republicans, as members of our community, protest any form of affirmative action (which appears to be their underlying message), it should not obscure a fundamentally different issue, which is the University’s collective, and profound, commitment to an inclusive and diverse community, and our belief that we have, indeed, assembled a com-munity in which each of its members has an equal opportunity to contribute to and gain from being in that community, and whom the University welcomes and values.
Thomas H. Jackson, President
Charles E. Phelps, Provost