OU President Joseph Harroz released a statement, Monday, on the First Amendment and diversity, equity and inclusion in celebration of the beginning of Free Speech Week.
OU designated the week of Oct. 18-24 as Free Speech Week with the goal of promoting the university’s diverse perspectives and emphasizing that they are welcome and essential to an educational environment, according to the university’s website.
Harroz wrote in the press release that all public universities have the mission of making the “promise of opportunity” accessible to all students, as universities provided a place for education, growth and inquiry throughout U.S. history.
“Our universities have been places where free inquiry, intellectual exploration, and personal growth have enriched students’ lives and prepared them for citizenship. … Our students must graduate prepared to prosper personally, live together in harmony, and serve as citizen-leaders to sustain our remarkable democracy,” Harroz wrote in the release.
OU’s goal is to support both free expression and diversity, Harroz wrote in the release, adding that he believes protecting and strengthening both ideas at the university will serve as a “much needed” example to society of not just coexistence of the two, but the success of both together.
In the release, Harroz cited academic freedom and the freedom of expression as “inviolable principles” as necessary for the success of universities and campus culture. He also wrote that because of free expression, universities serve to educate instead of indoctrinate students and promote critical thinking, as well as a demonstration of how civil discourse leads to understanding and truth.
“Without (academic freedom and free expression), our universities will not live up to their potential and promise as places of open discourse, unparalleled creativity, and an unyielding search for the truth,” Harroz wrote in the release.
The administration is committed to making the university “a place of belonging for all,” Harroz wrote, and cited the five pillars of the Lead On, University Strategic Plan. These pillars include preparing students for success and impact and becoming a place of belonging and emotional growth for all students. Harroz wrote that the university cherishes all forms of diversity and that by protecting diversity we also protect “the doors of opportunity.”
Harroz was a product of OU’s opportunity, as he wrote his father was a first generation college student at OU. Harroz wrote his family’s future was greatly impacted by the number of opportunities that his father found at the institution.
“Students of all backgrounds and perspectives must feel they belong, or they will not flourish — and as a result, the university will not flourish. … This idea is at the very heart of our democracy, and great universities like OU nurture it by embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion on our campuses and instilling a culture of dignity and respect for all,” Harroz wrote in the release.
Harroz wrote that the university takes pride in the curriculum that promotes civility between students, especially with those they disagree with, writing that this is critical for success in college, in future careers and in society. This provides an advantage for students, rather than directing them away from the realities that are present within society, Harroz said.
“At OU we live by a higher standard, and it’s our belief that each member of our community can benefit from our adherence to and celebration of First Amendment freedoms and diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Harroz wrote in the release.
The diversity within the student population is what gives OU a “magical energy” and is what makes democracy special, Harroz wrote. Hate and mistrust is what Harroz cited as the greatest threat to our democracy, and the administration knows that OU will face challenges in regards to this threat.
“We know that we will not be perfect and that we will face challenges, including from those who abuse our freedoms to espouse hate, or exploit our openness to try to divide us. But we must, and we will, remain steadfast in our collective effort to embody what is best about our society … the values of freedom and diversity are essential to the success of our students and our society,” Harroz wrote.