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See also, Commencement Remarks by journalist and broadcaster James Lehrer.

On Tolerance and Freedom of Expression

Commencement Remarks by Mitchell Marcus, Chair of the Faculty Senate

It is my honor as Chair of the Faculty Senate to bring to you and your families the congratulations of the Faculty. It has been my great pleasure to teach many of you during these past years and to watch you learn and grow. You and your families have much to be proud of.

You leave Penn to find the surrounding world a much different place than when you entered. The booming prosperity of the 1990s has been replaced by more difficult times. The vicious attack on the United States last September has sent this country to war. For many of us, this attack has greatly strengthened our common sense of community. But this attack has also strengthened the undercurrent of intolerance that has always swirled beneath the surface of our society.

As an academic community, Penn provides the clearest model in our society to counter this intolerance. As Penn's Code of Student Conduct says, "The University of Pennsylvania is a community in which intellectual growth, learning from others, mutual tolerance, and respect for freedom of thought and expression are principles of paramount importance."

I learned of this statement in a remarkable column in The Daily Pennsylvanian coauthored by David Kagan, the president of Penn Hillel, the Jewish student organization; and Angela Migally, the president of the Penn Arab Student Society. Speaking in one voice, they write that the job of students "is to constructively critique and analyze the abundance of information that we process daily. Opinions differ, as they must. Yet, instead of passively accepting ... stereotypical definitions .., we must open the dialogue, on both an individual and a communal level." Kagan and Migally really get it. But this is more than just the job of students; this is the job of all citizens in a free society.

In 1731, Ben Franklin said much the same thing when pushed to censor what he published. When citizens, he said, "differ in Opinion, both Sides ought equally to have the Advantage of being heard by the Public; and that when Truth and Error have fair Play, the former [the Truth] is always an overmatch for the latter."

As a practical man, Franklin understood that mutual tolerance and respect for freedom of thought and expression aren't utopian goals; that although they often seem risky, they reliably move society forward. Take these values with you into the communities in which you will live and become leaders. Exemplify them for others. You and your communities will be much the stronger for it.

Almanac, Vol. 48, No. 34, May 21, 2002


May 21, 2002
Volume 48 Number 34

A National Medal of Science for a pioneering Penn physicist.

SEAS selects two recipients for its annual awards.
Wharton gives awards to dozens of its faculty.
The concern about bicyclists on campus picks up momentum.
Search Committees are formed to advise on selecting two new deans.
Next Tuesday is PPSA's annual meeting and election.
Baccalaureate and Commencement speeches and photographs.
University Council committee year-end reports on Bookstores, Communications, and Community Relations.
The largest voluntary canine blood donor program in the US gets new wheels.

Recognized Holidays for faculty and staff, and revisions to the Academic Calendar.

A dozen new CCTV locations for public spaces are added to those previously approved.