Dear Duke: Let’s Not Normalize This Mode of Protest

The 25 Duke students who disrupted President Price’s address to gathered alumni last Saturday to issue a variety of demands announced today that their pending Student Conduct case has been closed with an informal letter of admonishment. The issues raised by our students are worthy of discussion, and I give them a lot of credit for activism focused on the well being of others.

However, I am worried that this episode will normalize a mode of protest that begins by telling someone who is scheduled to speak to get off the stage and not speak. I fear that this mode of protest will now be used (and reused) to shut down speakers with views that some find objectionable. That would be a terrible outcome for Duke, and much worse than last Saturday’s event, that could be viewed through the lens of a family squabble.

I would like to respectfully ask that all members of the Duke community pledge to not use this mode of protest to shut down the speech of others in the future, but instead that we commit to a robust ethic of free speech and flourishing academic freedom on campus, a task that can require special attention to insure that everyone has a chance to speak. Further, I would like for us all to imagine what it would look like for Duke to be a leader in this area.

In that vein, I highly recommend Free Speech on Campus, by Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman (Yale University Press, 2017) to us all.

About Don Taylor
Professor of Public Policy (with appointments in Business, Nursing, Community and Family Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute), and Chair of the Academic Council at Duke University https://academiccouncil.duke.edu/ . I am one of the founding faculty of the Margolis Center for Health Policy. My research focuses on improving care for persons who are dying, and I am co-PI of a CMMI award in Community Based Palliative Care. I teach both undergrads and grad students at Duke. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

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