UC President Janet Napolitano reaffirmed her commitment to free speech while criticizing white supremacy and immigration restrictions in a keynote speech at the annual American Political Science Association meeting Thursday.
The speech was hosted at the San Francisco Union Square Hilton, with political scientists from academic institutions worldwide in attendance. The role of academics and higher education in opposing far-right groups and hate was a prominent subject in the speech.
Napolitano stated the various violent incidents that occurred on college campuses in the past year are rooted in political and ideological polarization. She added that active listening between opposing sides could be a potential solution, especially at a local level.
Napolitano also advocated for higher education’s promotion of liberal democracy, without resorting to false equivalencies. In regards to false equivalencies, when two arguments are falsely portrayed as equally sound, she warned of the myth that “all sides of an argument have equal value.”
“It’s a falsehood to equate white supremacists or neo-Nazis with those who oppose their ideologies,” Napolitano said.
Napolitano also reaffirmed her support for free speech, stating that the university will not prevent speakers from appearing on campus, as that would be to judge the speech before it occurs.
“The university has to be open to visits and speeches by people many of us would find abhorrent,” said attendee Mark Peterson, a professor of public policy, political science and law at UCLA.
He also criticized Antifa’s practice of preemptively stopping controversial speakers’ planned visits, saying it is not emblematic of how deliberation should take place in a democracy.
After Napolitano’s speech was an onstage conversation with Tom Wong, an associate professor of political science at UC San Diego and the lead researcher on a new study of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
DACA allows undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as minors to defer deportation. As United States Secretary of Homeland Security under former president Barack Obama, Napolitano formally initiated DACA in a 2012 policy memorandum.
Napolitano said Congress should attach the DREAM Act, which provides support for undocumented minors, to a comprehensive immigration reform bill that could also include increased funding for border security. She rejected President Donald Trump’s idea for a wall along the border of the United States and Mexico, adding that it would be very ineffective.
Napolitano’s speech precedes a season of controversial figures speaking on campus, including Milo Yiannopoulos, who will return to campus Sept. 24-27 for “Free Speech Week.”
“As abhorrent as some of their views are and some of their speech is, the value is not to censor it before it actually occurs,” Napolitano said.