Statement supporting Camille Paglia at the University of the Arts
Calls to fire Camille Paglia, professor of humanities and media at the University of the Arts (UArts) in Philadelphia, erupted in April 2019 when it was announced that she would be giving a lecture titled “Ambiguous Images: Sexual Duality and Sexual Multiplicity in Western Art.” Paglia, an iconoclastic author and intellectual who has taught at UArts for over 30 years, has long been a lightning rod among feminists and LGBTQIA+ rights advocates, particularly for her views on rape and transgender identity. (She herself identifies as transgender but has expressed skepticism of the recent “transgender wave.”) Her speech was allowed to proceed, with peaceful protests, until a fire alarm was pulled, causing the lecture room to be vacated. In response, President David Yager sent a university-wide email articulating the institution’s position on academic freedom.
Excerpt from President Yager’s Statement (April 10, 2019)
“I firmly believe that limiting the range of voices in society erodes our democracy. Universities, moreover, are at the heart of the revolutionary notion of free expression: promoting the free exchange of ideas is part of the core reason for their existence. That open interchange of opinions and beliefs includes all members of the UArts community: faculty, students and staff, in and out of the classroom. We are dedicated to fostering a climate conducive to respectful intellectual debate that empowers and equips our students to meet the challenges they will face in their futures.”
What we like about this statement
- Unequivocally encourages the university to remain an environment that protects freedom of speech and presents a range of voices, including controversial ones.
- Draws powerful linkages between free speech, academic freedom, and democracy.
- Attempts to calm tensions with an appeal to core democratic principles and calls for reflection and mindfulness on how free speech is used.
- Provides compelling arguments for the value of controversial opinions within an educational context and more specifically within a school for the arts.
- Temple University defends professor’s right to air of controversial views
- University of Pennsylvania tries to strike a balance on academic freedom, tenure, and racism
- Georgetown University upholds academic freedom