A “Fundamental Breach of Civility”

These excerpts are from an article published on December 11, 2006, by then Johns Hopkins President William Brody

Important words:

By William R. Brody

A Civil Tongue

It is time to talk about freedom of speech.

“Recent events on the Homewood campus have provoked allegations that the university is not sufficiently protecting the free expression of ideas among our students. In particular, the outcry and controversy surrounding a racially demeaning invitation to a fraternity party, and the resulting sanctions imposed by the Student Conduct Board (which are currently on appeal), are being construed as an attempt by the university to prohibit speech it doesn’t particularly want to hear.

I disagree….”

“…. What I see here is not a courageous trespass of taboo speech but rather a fundamental breach of civility of the sort that is so commonly displayed in disparagement, mockery or epithets drawn along racial or ethnic lines. It is, simply put, common name-calling. This is what I believe we should agree is unacceptable in our community of free and open discourse. Let us not forget that true civility is not a program of fair treatment for this or that constituency but rather an underlying and fundamental commitment to showing respect for everybody…”

“…To any who doubt the consequence of teaching respect and civility, or who claim we are out of line in demanding that all members of our community comport themselves honorably in their dealings with others, I say this: Look around you. Look at the world we live in, where so many societies are literally falling apart because group A would rather encounter death and destruction than show basic human respect for group B. These are not trivial matters. Let us never underestimate the value of civility, not just to protect people’s feelings but to preserve the possibility of freedom itself…The Johns Hopkins University Gazette


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