A Letter to Student Leaders from President Hamilton
To: Student Leaders
Date: Tuesday, April 17, 2018
From: President Andrew Hamilton
Dear Student Leaders,
In recent days, I have been contacted about bitter exchanges among various student groups seeking intervention from the University. With that as backdrop, I wanted to offer a few thoughts and observations.
Many organizations in US society speak with only a single voice and publicly offer only a single institutional position. However, universities are not among them. Animated by a bedrock commitment to free expression, the free exchange of ideas, and the free movement of ideas and people, the university's role is to play host to a wide range of views without, for the most part, siding with one position or the other.
It is because of those principles that, several years ago, I made the University's posture clear on BDS proposals: NYU opposes a boycott of Israeli academics and will not participate in one, because we believe it is at odds with the tenets of academic freedom. It is for precisely the same set of reasons – belief in the free exchange of ideas and the free movement of people – that I disagree with the Israeli proposal to exclude from its borders those who are supporters of BDS, and conveyed my reservations to the Israeli authorities early last month.
With regard to the campus conversation about these issues (or any issue, for that matter), my view is that the university experience should be active, not passive. The University should draw people together – students, scholars – so that they can engage in debate, listen to one another, learn actively from one another, and, one hopes, arrive at greater insight. That should be our collective objective.
When we erect impediments to the respectful and free exchange of ideas – be it by employing invidious labels, vilifying one another's motives, or proposing to boycott discussion or engagement with those who hold differing views – we fall short of our principles and customs. Following that path is the opposite of why we bring together students and faculty in our scholarly community.
To those of you who have been isolated, personally attacked or unfairly labelled, I know it hurts. The tone of our society has become unduly harsh and that is terribly regrettable. But that is all the more reason for those of us at NYU to come together to find a way forward that rests on mutual respect, even in the face of tough disagreements.
This is a moment for leadership, to set aside the recent bitterness, and to recommit ourselves to dialogue with our fellow community members. I have asked the Office of Student Affairs and the Center for Multicultural Education and Programs, in coordination with the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer to actively reach out to concerned students in order to foster dialogue through facilitated discussion. I hope students will respond positively to the opportunity to work collaboratively with each other.