President Nannerl O. Keohane's
Although the Bassett Affair occurred long before any of us on campus today was born, the impact on our university still resonates. As the various speakers and articles about the Affair make clear, a crucial decision was made at that time by the leaders of Trinity College; this decision truly set the future course for the College, and then Duke University.
With the enthusiastic support of the faculty and the students, the trustees and senior administration resoundingly defeated the call for Professor Bassett's resignation by those who disliked his comparatively open-minded stance on the racial issue that was then festering so deeply in out region. They did so not because they all agreed with him -- they made clear that they did not; or because they were buckling in to anybody's demands off campus -- most people off campus were calling for Bassett to be fired. They stood up for Bassett because they wanted to make it very clear that freedom to speak, teach and publish are essential parts of a college or university.
As several people this week have noted, this action set Trinity College apart from many of our peers then and in subsequent periods of attacks on free speech. All of us at Duke should be proud of this university's history of staunchly defending free speech throughout our history, including today. We have not always been notable for being out in front on other issues; for instance, it took Duke quite awhile to integrate African-Americans fully into this university, compared with some of our peers. But on free speech issues, Trinity and Duke have always stood firm.
As a result, the debates on this campus are invigorating, and people should feel that they can speak up without fear of repression. Some students are not fully aware of this and may still feel timid about voicing their opinions. The message of the Bassett Affair is that, at Duke, they should feel free to do so, knowing that this university will protect them against those both within and outside the university who don't want to hear what they have to say.Both governmental concern about security issues and conformity in our society and on our campus are sometimes at odds with academic freedom. Thus, we need to continue to express and
Unless otherwise specified on this page, this work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.