The arrival of Steven Salaita on our campus last Tuesday, Feb. 3, caused quite a stir. Not only were students and faculty on campus divided, the event — and the decision to move it from The Frank Family Science Center's Joseph M. Bryan Jr. Auditorium to the Carnegie room at the request of the Frank family — had Guilford in the news all around the country and the world. From the Chronicle of Higher Education to the Electronic Intifada, the issue of moving the event was debated. Furthermore, members of the local community took offense at the college's invitation of speakers, as did major donors such as the Frank family.
Guilford is not perfect, nor are we as a community united. Some community members were deeply concerned and offended by Salaita's invitation, accusing him of anti-Semitism. Others were upset by the change of locations. On top of this, to be under attack from all sides of a much wider national debate about academic freedom did nothing to ease those tensions. We appreciate the local community and, especially, our donors. We encourage them to join our freely offered campus events. But we also ask that people outside our community respect that we as a campus are attempting to balance the needs of all students and faculty.
As Salaita discussed in his talk on Tuesday, as an institution of higher education we need academic freedom in order to grow and move beyond widely accepted narratives. Although Salaita's talk was not canceled, we must raise the question: if donors have the power to decide what events can and cannot be hosted in buildings they gave to us, what is next? Have we turned our backs on our commitment to our core values of integrity, equality and justice? As a community and institution, it is clear these issues demand our attention.
For those outside our campus, we invite you to join the conversations we are having — on racism, anti-semitism, academic freedom, and many more conversations. Perhaps instead of jumping to conclusions about one another we can work together to create a safer community for everyone, on and off campus.