A letter from President Mary Sue Coleman
To the Campus Community:
The President’s Office has received many messages about a
student conference on Palestinian solidarity, scheduled to take
place on our campus in October.
|President Mary Sue Coleman (U-M Photo Services)
This conference is sponsored by a student organization, following
established University procedures for holding events on campus.
We expect the organizers and participants to respect all University
rules concerning appropriate conduct on campus. The agenda of the
conference represents the views of the organizers and not the University
One of the issues that the student conference will address is the
divestment of University stock in companies doing business in Israel.
I do not support this divestment. As a matter of University policy,
we do not believe political interests should govern our investment
decisions. The University has divested stock just twice in its history.
Both decisions to divest were reached only after sustained, campuswide
support that followed extensive research by faculty-led committees,
which in turn prepared a compelling case that such investments were
antithetical to the basic mission and values of the University.
Those conditions do not exist, and I do not plan to ask our Board
of Regents to pursue divestment.
When matters of intense emotional impact are presented on campus,
it is vital that we uphold two cherished values upon which our academic
community depends. One is the right to explore and debate the widest
possible range of ideas, even if those ideas are offensive or repugnant
to some members of the community. Candid expression and open debate
are intrinsic to academic freedom. We afford that freedom both to
those who organize and participate in this conference, and to those
who disagree with the views thus presented.
The other cherished value is the respect that we owe to each other
as human beings and as fellow members of this academic community.
We constantly strive to build a community that is welcoming to all
and that does not foster hatred and discrimination. It is especially
important during difficult times and when dealing with divisive
topics that we extend to one another the highest levels of tolerance
and mutual respect.
We know we are not somehow separate from the larger world, or immune
from global events. We must and we will take a strong stand against
acts of incivility and hate wherever they occur; because by doing
so, we protect our right to live, study, and express our views in
Just last week we experienced a disturbing incident when, in violation
of University e-mail policy, a message containing inflammatory language
was distributed to many U-M faculty members. The message was neither
authorized nor aided by University administrators. The authorship
and other related circumstances are under investigation, and the
Provost’s Office will handle the matter consistent with University
procedures. Although we defend the right to freedom of expression,
we also have a responsibility to vehemently dispute speech that
is incompatible with our principles and beliefs. The e-mail contained
language that was deeply offensive and hurtful to me and to many
others in our community, and I condemn it. This country’s
history teaches us that ugly speech is best neutralized with other
voices and more speech. I ask for your collective support in maintaining
civil and respectful campus dialogue on important issues.
Such values of civil discourse hold a special meaning for us at
the University of Michigan. Our diverse population includes more
than 4,000 international students; one of the largest Jewish student
and alumni bodies of any major university; and a significant enrollment
of Arab American students on campuses situated near one of the most
sizable Arab American communities in the nation. Many students and
faculty are deeply engaged in studies on Middle Eastern topics through
longstanding and internationally recognized academic programs, including
the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, the Jean
and Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, the Department of
Near Eastern Studies, and the Center for Arab American Studies at
These rich resources also provide us with a unique opportunity and
responsibility to study and debate, in an atmosphere of trust and
mutual respect, the pressing issues facing our world. I am committed
to ensuring that this University remains a place where that will
always be possible.
Mary Sue Coleman