Encouraging Respect and Civility

A letter from the dean of students

Thursday, September 13, 2018
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UNH's Ted Kirkpatrick
John T. Kirkpatrick

Dear Wildcats,

Sometimes events from the past remind us what a special place UNH is and how lucky we are to live and work here. I write now to share a story from our past that illustrates one reason I am so proud to be a Wildcat and let you know about some related events.

The 1950s were marked by widespread fear of communism across our nation with many believing that only extreme vigilance and prosecution of persons holding “dangerous” beliefs would keep us safe. State officials and local media challenged the right of Gwynn Daggett, a UNH professor of English, to invite speakers to his classes who some regarded as subversive voices. One of those guests was Paul Sweezy, an economist suspected of communist ties. An attempt to force them to explain what they talked about in the classroom was rebuked, and the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled in favor of UNH, and in 1958 the university received a national award, The AAUP’s Meiklejohn Award for Academic Freedom, in recognition of its outstanding contribution to academic freedom in higher education.  Read more about this case in UNH Magazine.

It is important to honor this crucial part of our heritage, and there are two opportunities next week:

  • Monday, Sept. 17, is Constitution Day, the yearly celebration of the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. As a public university receiving federal funds, we are directed by Congress to recognize the importance of that date to the American story. An essay about the Sweezy case written by Sue Siggelakis, a political science professor and constitutional scholar, will be on the UNH homepage all week. Take the time to read it and reflect on its meaning in 2018.
  • Wednesday, Sept. 19, at 9:50 a.m. in the Granite State Room of the MUB, UNH will host a naturalization ceremony, celebrating 70 new U.S. citizens in a special session of the U.S. District Court. The ceremony is open to the public.

Academic freedom, freedom of speech and of assembly and inclusion are important topics for us to consider as a community. Let’s talk, and when we disagree, let’s listen to the opposing voice without diminishing it, to acknowledge without fear wider social problems that compromise freedom and opportunity among some groups and to work with one another to find common ground. It is vital work that awaits us in the coming year. I hope that each of you in your way will join that effort.

With best wishes for the 2018-19 academic year,

John T. Kirkpatrick
Senior Vice Provost for Student Life
and Dean of Students

This article is part of the series:

UNH campus aerial view
Resources for building a better, more diverse culture at UNH