Two hundred and thirty-two years ago this week, the Founding Fathers of the newly established United States of America signed a document that changed the course of history.
It remains one of the clearest examples of the value, importance and power of speech. The words enshrined in the U.S. Constitution literally created this country and the ideals it continues to strive toward more than two centuries later.
The ideas included in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights continue to play out every day on public university campuses like ours — especially the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech.
Boise State leaders often get asked about why certain speakers are being heard on campus or why certain books are being read on campus. These questions come from across the political spectrum because, as a public university, we have a longstanding dedication to the right of free speech. In fact, the First Amendment calls upon us to respect a full spectrum of voices on college campuses. This is a charge Boise State takes very seriously.
It is incumbent on a public university not only to provide the knowledge and skills students will need in the workplace of the future, but to equip them to think critically about the world around them, to evaluate and understand new information, and to communicate their own ideas effectively. This prepares them to become business, community and civic leaders. In short, we believe a university’s charge is not to teach its students what to think, but to teach them how to think.
In all students’ years here on campus, they will hear ideas from invited speakers and campus visitors that run counter to their deep beliefs. They will be asked to read books and articles with which they vehemently disagree. They will be invited into discussions that could easily turn into debates or arguments. Activists from all sides see college campuses as prime locations for speaking out about their beliefs and philosophies. And the First Amendment protects that speech except in very few instances.
Most of our campus is public space, and that means ideas from all sides and perspectives will be aired here – in the Quad as well as in the classroom.
And students should know that they aren’t expected to navigate these tumultuous waters alone.
Our student-support professionals are available to answer questions and provide resources and community support. The Dean of Students Office provides information on how the First Amendment applies on campus, how students can use their own voices, and, importantly, what support and resources are available when students, faculty and staff need them.
The country celebrates Constitution Day every September, and each year Boise State University hosts a speaker to address issues related to the Constitution in modern life.
This year the School of Public Service is featuring Bradley C. S. Watson, who is professor of politics and the Philip M. McKenna Chair in American and Western Political Thought at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He is co-director of the college’s Center for Political and Economic Thought, a research and public affairs institute dedicated to the scholarly exposition of freedom, Western civilization and the American experience.
Dr. Watson will deliver his speech, “The Progressive Revolution in Constitutional Interpretation,” at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Lookout Room in the Student Union Building. It is free of charge and open to all.