University of Utah community:

Public universities at their core are places for the free exploration and expression of ideas. This allows us as students, researchers, and educators to advance new ideas and new knowledge; it permits us to imagine and to be part of creating a better world. Disagreement that stems from the exchange of diverse ideas and viewpoints has long been part of the intellectual mission of our institution and it improves us in our intellectual journey.

Increasingly, however, we have faced something beyond intellectual disagreement. We now see expressions of hate nationwide that inflict pain and humiliation on others, including those within our university community. When hearing or seeing things of this sort, I, like you, am angered. I am outraged. I am appalled.

We are deeply committed to equity, inclusion and diversity at the University of Utah and we strive to foster an environment of respect. These values are essential to our institution and to our collective common good, and I remain dedicated to our many efforts to ensure our university is welcoming and safe for all. I commit to continuing to do all that I can to advance these core institutional principles.

As we strive to live our values, we face the challenge of how to respond to ideas we deplore. Hearing hateful words and understanding what we stand for at the University of Utah leads many of you to ask what I will do to stop it. The answer is not an easy one: As much as I may disagree with what is being said, the constitution does not permit me to regulate what can and cannot be said, even when there is speech I abhor. But make no mistake: By permitting free expression, we are not endorsing any particular speaker or viewpoint.

So what can we do in the face of hateful speech? We must exercise our own right to speak. Engage and be heard. Give voice to what you believe in. As president, I will call out hate for what it is and will speak out loudly against those things that are contrary to our institutional values. I encourage everyone in the university community to do the same.


David W. Pershing
University of Utah

  • Aaron McDonald

    I applaud the President for having the courage to openly reject the notion that hate speech is not protected by the first amendmant. .

  • ChrisJenkins

    If The University of Utah is committed to free and open speech. Why do so many administrators, faculty and staff advocate banning certain political viewpoints? Why do University administrators, faculty, and staff give straw-man arguments misrepresenting the viewpoints of those they oppose? Why are University administrators, faculty and staff taking the time to publicly giving lip service to free speech and in classrooms and behind closed doors advocating to have events from those on the political right shut down? Why are there no public announcements to help ease the feelings of those on the political right when a political left speaker visits the university?

    The University of Utah has a double standard that advocates for political left ideas and disparages the right. How can you claim to be for free speech when you obviously disagree with it?

  • Jason Rogers

    If you don’t want to attend the Ben Shapiro event, then don’t go. If you think that Shapiro’s words are ‘hate speech,’ then help inform and educate people about it. Free speech is supposed to give people the right to say what they want to say, whether someone personally deems it hate speech or not. Censorship is what happens when speeches are labelled and then stopped.

    Organize someone to speak who has an opposing view. Help the student body to see a different side. Why not go to the Ben Shapiro event and ask some rationale and educated questions to him? Just putting it our in the ether that Shapiro is hate speech does nothing except push sensationalism. And then claiming that hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment is just putting falsehoods out there. Look up Matal v. Tam. The Supreme Court said that ‘the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate.”’

    And, the more that people want to protest and the more people try and stop Shapiro from coming, the more free publicity they are giving to Shapiro. I know many students who now know who Ben Shapiro is because of the sit-ins and attempted censorship by certain groups of students.

  • Amy Brunvand

    Young Americans for Freedom groups across the country have been trying to deliberately weaponize freedom of speech by inviting highly offensive speakers to college campuses in order to provoke a backlash. When inevitably the offensive speaker offends someone, YAfF screams that their own constitutional rights have been violated. It’s an ugly game and too bad the University of Utah is playing along. There is no use trying to have a serious intellectual discussion with someone whose shtick is essentially insult comedy and whose job it is, after all, to violate social norms. While I applaud President Pershing’s defense of free speech, I wish he had also made a statement against weaponizing speech and denouncing the intent to offend that lies behind inviting this particular speaker. The best response would be for people to stay away in droves.