Dear Dr. Miller:
Let me first express my great satisfaction over your selection as our new chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. I am delighted to have a former Mississippi State Bulldog in charge of our university. I am also impressed by your qualifications. Unlike your predecessor, you were not selected on the basis of your gender or any other irrelevant demographic characteristics. You were selected on the basis of your qualifications. You deserved the position you were awarded. And you’ve been doing an outstanding job so far.
Unfortunately, some of the actions of your predecessor have damaged the climate for free expression at UNC-Wilmington. Among those actions was a decision to post our Seahawk Respect Compact on the wall of every classroom at the university. My purpose in raising this issue is fourfold. I want to 1) highlight (by underlining) a portion of the respect compact that I believe to be problematic, 2) explain how I think it could be misinterpreted, 3) relate a recent classroom incident that shows how it is, in fact, being abused, and 4) propose a solution to the problem.
The Seahawk Respect Compact is indented below. Note that the bold portions are not my emphasis. I have underlined only one small portion for emphasis:
In the pursuit of excellence, UNC Wilmington actively fosters, encourages, and promotes inclusiveness, mutual respect, acceptance, and open-mindedness among students, faculty, staff and the broader community.~ We affirm the dignity of all persons.
~ We promote the right of every person to participate in the free exchange of thoughts and opinions within a climate of civility and mutual respect.
~ We strive for openness and mutual understanding to learn from differences in people, ideas and opinions.
~ We foster an environment of respect for each individual, even where differences exist, by eliminating prejudice and discrimination through education and interaction with others.
Therefore, we expect members of the campus community to honor these principles as fundamental to our ongoing efforts to increase access to and inclusion in a community that nurtures learning and growth for all.
As you can see, Chancellor Miller, I have a problem with the suggestion that there is some sort of “right” that extends to “every person” and which entitles him to be the recipient of “respect.” Let me explain why this is wrongheaded by sharing a few examples:
• Several years ago, an N.C. State visiting professor expressed the view that all white people needed to be “exterminated” from the face of the earth. He was invited to debate me on Fox News and he declined. When I went on Fox to denounce him, I was not concerned about “civility.” He was not entitled to it. He’s a violent racist. Nor was he entitled to “respect” for his violent racist views. In fact, given his advocacy of violence and fear of debate he was not even entitled to respect as a human being. He just needed a good public shaming.
• Around that time, a professor here in North Carolina wrote to me saying that the Holocaust was the greatest “hoax” perpetrated in modern history. I went on national television to rebuke her. She was also invited to debate me on Fox News. Like the other racist at N.C. State, she declined. I did not – nor do I now – respect her views. I do not even respect her as a person. Put simply, nothing can make me respect an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier.
• Finally, there is a professor here at UNCW who has reportedly articulated the view – in class, mind you – that 911 was the result of a planned conspiracy between Bush and “the Jews.” Because she has tenure, UNCW is stuck with the 911 conspiracy theorist as well as her anti-Semitic views. But what about the occasional Jewish student in her classroom? Should she be required to “respect” her professor’s anti-Semitic views?
I hope you see the danger in granting a “right” to be respected. Once students begin to believe that respect is an entitlement they are granted – and not a privilege they must earn – the academic work product suffers. Bad ideas are placed on equal footing with good ideas and eventually the pursuit of truth suffers as a whole. But the pursuit of truth is already suffering here at UNCW. Earlier this semester, there was a vigorous discussion in one of our social science classes. Ideas were exchanged and disagreement was articulated. But, following the conversation, something unfortunate happened. The professor sent an email to all of his students reminding them that they were required by the Seahawk Respect Compact to maintain a climate of mutual respect and civility. An important question follows: Is there any chance that the professor’s email will not adversely affect future discussions by creating a chilling effect on free speech?
You know as well as I do that student discussions are not bound by the Seahawk Respect Compact. At this public university, they are bound by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Therefore, I ask that you order the Seahawk Respect Compact to be removed from every classroom at UNCW. I furthermore ask you to replace it with a copy of the First Amendment so students will be reminded daily that the right to be unoffended is to be found nowhere in our constitution.
This action will also remind our students that the UNCW handbook is not the law of the land. The U.S. Constitution is the law of the law. It has not been preserved by the blood and sacrifice of the easily offended.
With all due respect and civility,
Mike S. Adams