Last night in Clark Hall, a meeting of Jewish students and a rabbi, properly reserved and wholly peaceful, was disrupted. Individuals entered the classroom reserved by these students, used a megaphone to interrupt the conversations of the students attending the meeting, and otherwise attempted to prevent the students in attendance from exercising their rights of free and peaceful association. I have reviewed video of this incident, to which University Police were called to respond and restore peaceful order, and it appears several University policies were violated by those who disrupted their peers' attempt to gather and talk. These policies include the University's policy on protests and on amplified sound, as well as related University Standards of Conduct applicable to students. I am told the scene in the room felt threatening to many students in attendance.
The University is a place for intellectual inquiry. Freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of religion are all critical tenets of our diverse community of scholars. We have been fortunate that despite the interplay of passionately held views on opposite sides of many issues, our students are generally very respectful toward one another and reject the "heckler's veto" of shouting down those with whom we may disagree. Without space to engage in free and open dialogue, to advance new or controversial ideas, and to test our theories on politics, economics, or other areas of meaningful inquiry, opportunities for true intellectual growth are restricted.
With rare exception, there is danger in assuming one's chosen side of an issue is free of fallibility or otherwise not open to question. We can only learn from each other if space exists to exchange ideas freely and without disruption from those with whom we may disagree. Indeed, having watched the video from last night, it appears clear the Jewish students and their rabbi extended an offer to engage in dialogue with the protesters disrupting their meeting, but that overture was rejected. This was a lost opportunity.
My sincere hope is that last night will provide a chance to reflect on what makes this University vital in today's challenging world. What happened in Clark Hall runs counter to our important shared values of respect and intellectual inquiry, and should be firmly rejected.
Allen W. Groves
University Dean of Students