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Message Regarding Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech and the Need for Inclusivity and Respect

December 29, 2016

Dear Member of the Drexel Community:

The social media comments over winter break by George Ciccariello-Maher, associate professor of politics and global studies at Drexel, have precipitated a heated public dialogue. The issue has caught the attention of national media and put Drexel in the spotlight. As University leaders, we understand that people have very different perspectives and opinions on such matters; it is our duty to ensure that all members of our community feel truly welcome and can participate in an inclusive learning environment. Instances such as this one both test and strengthen Drexel’s fundamental dedication to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression.

The University vigorously supports the right of its faculty members and students to freely express their opinions in the course of academic debate and discussion. In this vein, we recognize Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s tweets as protected speech. However, his words, taken at face value and shared in the constricted Twitter format, do not represent the values of inclusion and understanding espoused by Drexel University. As we engage with one another in conversation, it is important to remember that these principles—academic freedom, freedom of speech and the need for inclusivity and respect—are not mutually exclusive. In fact, Drexel’s long history demonstrates a steadfast commitment to creating an environment in which these principles coexist and complement one another.

Very often electronic forms of communication (Twitter, in particular) are limited in their ability to communicate satire, irony and context, especially when referencing a horror like genocide. While Professor Ciccariello-Maher has defended his comments as satire, the wide range of reactions to his tweets suggests that his intentions were not adequately conveyed. These responses underscore the importance of choosing one’s words thoughtfully and exercising appropriate judgment in light of the inherent limitations presented by communications on social media.

Vigorous debate on complex and controversial topics, as we are currently seeing in our country, requires that a university provide a safe learning environment for all. We are committed to ensuring that Drexel is such an environment for those who study, teach and work here, while upholding our foundational commitment to academic freedom.

The University strongly encourages the use of speech—not threats or violence—to counter speech with which one disagrees. In the coming months, we look forward to a constructive exchange of ideas and opinions on the subject of academic freedom and freedom of speech.


John A. Fry

M. Brian Blake, PhD
Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost