“On August 12, 2017, Charlottesville, Virginia and the Grounds of the University of Virginia became the target of a fringe group of extremists and xenophobes who sought to publicize and validate their twisted brand of nationalist rhetoric through provocations and intimidation that ultimately burst forth as acts of violence and assault.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) strongly condemns the violence and the attack on counter-protesters that resulted in the tragic death of Heather Heyer. Violence on a college campus or in a community is always unacceptable. Our organization condemns the displays of racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry visited on Charlottesville, while still supporting the rights of students and faculty to free expression, and recognizing that these repugnant views remain under the protection of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
This year has tested the resolve of colleges and universities to remain places of open dialogue and free expression—and trying times may be ahead. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes admonished, “if there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought—not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”
We must remember this in the face of the vicious lies of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The best way to defeat the spread of hate, intolerance, and insidious views is to remain steadfast in our own commitment as educators to peaceful assembly, intellectual engagement, and rational debate.
Higher education’s burden is to challenge and expose falsehood in all its forms, and to overcome hate through reason and the search for truth. Higher education leaders and trustees have a responsibility to ensure that colleges remain places where free assembly is possible. This requires, above all else, protecting the safety of protesters, counter-protesters, faculty, staff, and all other members of the campus community. Leaders and trustees of public universities must be faithful stewards of institutional policies concerning free speech, of the rules that govern campus events, and of the campus security protocols when similar groups seek to use their campus facilities.
America’s colleges and universities must commit to remaining places of free speech, inquiry, and inclusive debate. The surest remedy against extreme speech is more speech and civil demonstration—and higher education must lead the way in elevating the dialogue. We offer this statement in that spirit.”