President Pastides' open letter on freedom of expression

May 15, 2014

Dear Carolina Family,

During last week's commencement exercises, I shared with our graduates the University of South Carolina's motto, "Emollit mores nec sinit esse feros" or "Learning humanizes character and does not permit it to be cruel." I have never felt more strongly about the importance of our motto than I do today.

Adopted by the board in 1803, our motto is inspired by the poet Ovid and implies that education's full value to society is in making that society more open, more tolerant, more civil in debate and more civic-minded. It is the perfect complement to the Carolinian Creed which asks our community of scholars to respect the dignity of all persons and to discourage bigotry, while striving to learn from differences in people, ideas and opinions. I embrace these principles and make every effort to live them.

At Carolina, we place a high value on creating an environment where all viewpoints and ideas are available to all of our learners and to the community at large. Furthermore, I believe that civil disagreements and discussions are healthy and vital to a meaningful academic learning experience.

The ongoing events of the last several days, weeks and months threaten the foundation of higher education and civil discourse. I want to assure each of you that we have not stood idly by as the public debate has taken place. We have been civilly and persistently working behind the scenes to support the university's position.

The university does not promote any political or social agenda but does offer the opportunity for student, faculty and community groups to assemble and participate in activities that promote individual learning and community engagement.

Tuesday, the Senate passed an amendment that, if adopted, would require USC Upstate to provide instruction on the "provisions and principles of the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers." In a twist of irony, the campus will be required to delve into the very documents where our Founding Fathers sanction the ideals of free expression.

USC professors have taught American history, including the meaning and importance of these documents, for more than two centuries. We are up to the task. We will continue to teach and embrace freedom, truth, free speech, the right to assemble and more.

Also Tuesday, we learned that Upstate's Center for Women's and Gender Studies will be an unfortunate casualty in the ongoing funding challenges present in public higher education in South Carolina. This ill-timed announcement will not diminish our support for the underlying academic minor at Upstate or related programming throughout the USC system.

Through all the controversy, we have not lost focus on the critical mission of providing affordable and accessible higher education opportunities to South Carolina's students. It's time to replace unhealthy hyperbole with the civil discourse that education encourages.

It's time to refocus on the role that higher education plays in the economic and overall development of our state.


Harris Pastides