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Our Commitments to Free Inquiry and Debate

January 19, 2016

Dear members of the campus community,
As your Chancellor and Provost, we are proud of the culture of tolerance and respect that defines UC Merced. We are equally proud to be part of a university culture committed to fostering an academic environment where the search for truth and knowledge can occur without fear of retribution.  
These principles occasionally must be reaffirmed. One recent case in point relates to media reports concerning a class lecture given this past fall at UC Merced. Some of the comments made by the lecturer were recorded and sent to a news and commentary blog, resulting in some angry and hostile reactions from people whose understanding of what happened was drawn from resulting media stories.
And so, as a new semester begins, we want to reaffirm to you our fundamental commitments to free inquiry and debate in our research, creative expression and our classrooms.
The university is an intellectual community where the search for truth matters and evidence counts, and where we are committed to identifying and gathering relevant information, analyzing it, testing it, and then drawing conclusions as the end result of such inquiry. This commitment to intellectual inquiry defines us as an academic institution and stands with us to ward off unfounded prejudice, discredited theories, distorted perspectives and factual manipulations that thwart processes of discovery. The commitment does not guarantee that we will always be right, but it does ensure that we strive to remain open to new evidence and insights, and understand the importance of the clash of competing ideas.
We are also committed to academic freedom, which is essential to the pursuit of truth and knowledge. It entails that faculty members and lecturers must be free to express ideas or facts related to the subject matter being taught in their classrooms — even when these ideas and facts are controversial or sometimes proven to be wrong — without being targeted for punishment.
This freedom comes with a set of responsibilities that includes fostering the intellectual growth of students. We are thus also committed to our students’ search for knowledge and truth in their classrooms. This means striving to maintain an atmosphere that encourages students to question ideas, debate evidence and present alternative viewpoints — also without penalty.
These commitments are not always easy to balance. Some ideas, whether true or false, can be hurtful. Some facts, even if verified with the best available evidence, will inflame passions and fuel controversy. The powers, real or perceived, that others hold over us can make us fearful to question, debate or present alternative viewpoints.
We have shown time and again that our commitments both to academic freedom and to a culture of tolerance and respect can coexist. In our view, this is one of the central factors that make our University of California campus so very special.  
Chancellor Dorothy Leland                        Provost Tom Peterson

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