Here’s a new, four-minute video that’s being sent to everyone on campus as a “welcome back to school” message. It features President Paul Alivisatos, a chemist who came to us from being Provost of the University of California at Berkeley, and Provost Ka Yee Lee, also a chemist. (We have a tradition of having administrators with a science background. Our last President, Robert Zimmer, was a mathematician.)
This has caused some discussion aong my colleagues because of the balance between emphasizing free speech, which is what the President does, and emphasizing the advantages of diversity, which is Ka Lee’s job in the video. The President begins by emphasizing the importance of research and free expression, one of the selling points of our University. The Provost takes a different tack beginning at 1:57, emphasizing our commitment to “the values of diversity and inclusion, which help shape our distinctive intellectual culture.” As she continues, one could almost think her message is this: that everyone must feel welcome to ensure that there is free expression.
This is the “free expression” versus “DEI” perspectives, but in this case I think they have the balance down pretty well. No university can get away with completely ignoring the diversity issue, but here they couch it as “feeling welcome”—in other words, civility. And the free-speech and argument culture issues start and end the video. I can’t think of any other colleges that would do that.
I have no beef with the message, but others do, arguing that free expression does not necessarily flow from diversity, should be its own stand-alone principle, and, indeed, that too much balkanization could stifle free expression.
What do you think?