A number of Nebraskans have expressed concerns about the recent treatment of one of our students in a public space by a University of Nebraska faculty member. I have reviewed the incident in question. The behavior involved vulgar gestures and language that many people would consider offensive. It was unprofessional and not in keeping with the standards of conduct I expect from members of the University of Nebraska community.
I am a vigorous defender of free speech and I stand by the rights of all employees and students to express their opinions, no matter how provocative. I also believe that as educators, we have an especially high bar for responsibly exercising our First Amendment rights. We have the unique privilege of helping shape young minds, and everything we do is a teachable moment. In this case, we had an opportunity to model how differing opinions can be exchanged with civility, respect and dignity. It appears that opportunity was missed. I’m deeply troubled that a student has been treated this way. I will continue to support free speech, but we must allow for the healthy exchange of ideas without personal attacks, especially against young people who are our future.
Hank M. Bounds, Ph.D.
President, University of Nebraska