The Ideal Duke University Speech Code
The motto of Duke University is Eruditio et Religio (“Knowledge and Piety”). Students and administrators alike must work together to make Duke a place in which each of these virtues can flourish. To increase knowledge, we must allow free expression of ideas. To increase piety, we must use positive reinforcement to create a culture of respect and dignity. We will respect the diverse perspectives of our students and faculty, but we will keep in mind that truth transcends our individual perspectives. Regardless of our differences in race, gender, or ideology, members of the Duke community are allies, not enemies. We did not come here to confirm our biases or to stockpile ammunition to use against our foes. We came here to pursue the truth. To make Duke a truly great place, a place of knowledge and piety, we must make it a place of humility. This is the goal of our speech code.
1. The right of a member of Duke University to free speech shall not be abridged because of what he says.
To replace ignorance with knowledge, we must be able to express and to examine incorrect views. Preventing the expression of an opinion, no matter how offensive, false, or bellicose, backfires for two reasons: (1) the person who has been silenced becomes a martyr, and his opinions become more attractive because they seem revolutionary; (2) as John Stuart Mill noted, if the general student body never hears an argument, they will never learn to refute it, and if the truth is never tested, our belief in it will atrophy. Our students are intelligent, rational individuals. They can decide which opinions they will hold and which they will not. If we discuss all opinions rather than a chosen few, we have a much better chance of discovering the truth.
Some people, undoubtedly, will deliberately use hateful words against their peers to cause emotional harm, thus damaging our learning environment. While such actions are contemptible, any law prohibiting them would be impossible to enforce and easy to abuse. Students might take offense to statements which are not intrinsically offensive. Administrators might creatively interpret and enforce the law to suit their own agendas, leading students to disrespect the law despite its good intentions. Confusion and fear about what can be said and what cannot be said would permeate the university and would stifle intellectual growth.
2. A member of Duke University cannot break university, local, state, or federal laws to express symbolic speech.
At Duke, we believe that all crimes are “hate crimes.” Any member of our university who breaks the law, especially through physical violence or vandalism, is acting in a way which is deleterious to an atmosphere of piety and respect, and he will be punished. Simply put, a person may not use his rights to violate the rights of others.
3. A member of Duke University cannot use his right of free speech to disrupt a class, a meeting, or any other official speaking engagement.
To insure intelligent and respectful debate at our university, we must give each individual a chance to speak. The people who are running official meetings and speaking engagements have the right to determine who can speak and who cannot. The speakers at these meetings should be heard. Hecklers do not want knowledge or piety; they want to use their rights to obstruct the rights of others. They will be punished. Anyone who wants to speak at a meeting but is not able to speak may assemble a meeting of his own.
At Duke University, we humbly admit that we cannot solve every problem by legislating. Our speech code will help to make this university a haven for knowledge and piety, but true change must start with the individual. We remind our students and professors that they are fellow travelers on the road to knowledge and encourage them to respect one another regardless of their disagreements. It takes great strength of character to be both knowledgeable and humble, and the members of our university have that strength. We shall respect each other and seek the truth together.