Cal Poly president addresses free speech, hate speech on campus

Posted at 7:47 PM, Apr 19, 2018

A day after listening to students’ concerns about racial tension on campus increasing partly due to recent racist graffiti and flyers, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong again addressed the campus community Thursday.

Armstrong sent this letter to students, faculty and staff, telling them of the types of activities that will not be tolerated by the university:

Dear Campus Community:

I am disgusted to report that there have been a variety of inappropriate and hateful actions on campus in recent days, from slurs being directed at students, to offensive graffiti and postings in or on our facilities. 

These activities are the desperate work of a few who would seek to spread hate and divide us at a vulnerable time.  Our strongest response in the face of this rhetoric is to come together as one with the common goal of eradicating hatred from our community.

For those engaging in these activities, I want be very clear:  While free speech is protected by the First Amendment, actions that violate the law and extend beyond First Amendment rights will not be tolerated.  This includes threats of physical violence or harm, promoting actual physical violence or harm, fighting words, expression that constitutes criminal or severe harassment, or defamation, or actions that violate the university’s Time, Place and Manner Policy (Campus Administrative Policy 140.)  These actions are punishable by discipline from the university, up to and including expulsion for students and termination for employees. 

All reports of activities that violate the law have been and will continue to be reported to and reviewed by law enforcement and may also result in criminal charges.  I encourage any campus community members who witness such activities to immediately report them to the University Police Department.

Emotions are understandably raw right now, but we must have open and constructive dialogue with each other about what we can do to support a more inclusive campus.  Until this happens, our community cannot begin the healing process.  We have started the process of facilitating that dialogue now and will be reaching out to student groups and others in the coming days and weeks.

As a university, we are not unique.  We are grappling with the same issues of freedom of speech and hate speech as many other institutions across the country.  Cal Poly is a microcosm of general society.  We have representative diversity, which means that every perspective, political persuasion, and philosophical and world view is represented.  This includes individuals who engage in microaggressions, macroaggressions and, unfortunately, even racist rhetoric and behavior.

I say this not to be dismissive of our need to improve our campus culture.  I believe, though, that the vast majority of our students, faculty and staff are good people who want and work for the same things for Cal Poly:  An inclusive campus rooted in respect for all of its members.

This is a difficult time, but it presents us with an opportunity to make meaningful change.  If we talk with each other, respect one another and learn from each other, we can make this university – our university – a better place.


Jeffrey D. Armstrong

Students have accused the university president and administration of not doing enough to help and support students of color in the wake of a blackface photo scandal, subsequent protests and a case of racial profiling and cultural appropriation. Because fraternities were involved, President Armstrong suspended Greek life on campus.

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