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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 of Michigan.

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 safety.

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 U-M–Dearborn.

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

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