Statement by NKU President James C. Votruba
April 17, 2006
I am writing to comment on the recent destruction of an approved campus display created by the Northern Kentucky Right to Life student organization.
One of the important roles that a university must play is to be a forum for debate and analysis concerning the important issues of the day. Often these issues are surrounded by strident rhetoric and strong emotions which makes it even more incumbent on the university to create and nurture an intellectual environment in which reason and evidence prevail and where all points of view can be heard.
Northern Kentucky University has a distinguished record of addressing important public issues in a balanced way. We are proud that, as a campus, we are not the captive of one ideology or point of view. At their best, universities are not places of comfortable conformity. They are places where ideas collide as students and faculty search for deeper understandings and perspectives.
While the University supports the right to free speech and vigorous debate on public issues, we cannot condone infringement of the rights of others to express themselves in an orderly manner. By leading her students in the destruction of an approved student organization display, Professor Sally Jacobsen’s actions were inconsistent with Northern Kentucky University’s commitment to free and open debate and the opportunity for all sides to be heard without threat of censorship or reprisal.
It has been heartening that student and faculty groups that do not necessarily support the position of Northern Kentucky Right to Life have come out strongly in support of the organization’s right to be heard through their display. This reflects a commitment to the importance of free speech and inquiry as a hallmark of our University.
Professor Jacobsen has been removed from her remaining classes and placed on leave from the University. She will retire from the University at the end of this semester. The Faculty Senate, representing more than 1,000 NKU faculty members, has taken strong action today that affirms the importance of free expression as a defining quality of the University. Our campus has spoken with a strong and unified voice. Further action may occur once a full investigation has been completed.
The action taken by the University should be considered in the context of Professor Jacobsen’s entire 27 year career at NKU. Nevertheless, her recent lapse of judgment was severe and, for a period of time, has caused some in our community and beyond to question whether Northern Kentucky University upholds freedom of expression. My answer to this question is an unequivocal yes. NKU lives its commitment to free expression and responds when that commitment has been compromised.
America is, today, debating a variety of polarizing issues around which people feel great passion. It is not surprising that these strong sentiments find their way onto college campuses. However, our role is to add light to these debates, not more heat. If we don’t serve this role, who will?