May 14, 2018
I am writing to reinforce our deep and abiding commitment to free speech and open expression of ideas at SUNY Oswego. First Amendment rights are foundational to learning and critical thought. Be assured they are honored and respected here.
In the past few days, an interaction and email exchange between a student speaker at "Open Mic" on April 26, 2018, and an employee has been reported on in Campus Reform (Campus Reform is a project of Leadership Institute. On its website, Leadership Institute says it teaches conservatives of all ages how to succeed in politics, government and the media). Several other media outlets across the country have published the same account.
We have looked into this matter for several days now. It is clear our employee did not consult with her supervisor or any member of administration before she sent the offending email and she did not speak in relation to any formal policy of SUNY Oswego. However, while our employee acknowledged the speaker's free speech rights and did not literally issue a reprimand, sanction or prohibition, the words used were of a nature that were easily interpreted as limiting the speaker's freedom of expression. That is neither in accordance with our policy nor with our widely communicated and published commitment to free speech. We have apologized to the entire SUNY Oswego community in a campus statement last Friday.
Also on Friday, I met with the student and had a full discussion of the matter. I commended her on voicing her opinions and seriously explored her impressions of the campus, especially relative to safety. I was heartened to know she is proud she could speak out, feels safe and has many friends and supporters at SUNY Oswego. She also expressed her love for SUNY Oswego.
We have many specifically designed programs and experiences for students as well as faculty and staff that reflect the commitment to exploring all ideas and beliefs. Please know, we will continue through several means to encourage members of our campus community to embrace diversity in all its forms--diversity of people, thought and expression. And, we will remain vigilant about safety, encouraging anyone who feels unsafe or threatened to let us know.
We have scoured our judicial processes and find no charges registered in regard to assaults, threats to safety, thefts or destruction of property connected to conservative political expression over the past year. If there had been, strong action would have been taken. Of course, where students feel passionate about their beliefs--on the right or the left--strident and even hateful verbal exchanges have taken place. This is especially true at the physical location of our broadest "marketplace of ideas," the concourse area of Marano Student Center where student groups are permitted to set up tables to attract notice to their special interests. Relative to those occurrences, over the past year, we have sometimes counseled students about the benefits of civil discourse but applied no sanctions where the offense was based on speech alone.
I assure you we will remain steadfast in educating all students, faculty and staff that while some ideas are different from and may even be anathema to what we think, it is important that we allow them to be expressed. If we take the opportunity to listen and civilly engage with each other, we might more easily build bridges across our divides, reflect more clearly on our own beliefs and hopefully, acquire greater knowledge. That is who we are at SUNY Oswego.
Deborah F. Stanley