Presidential Column

Tolerance… and Limitations


In his report to the University’s Board of Governors last May, our Chairman, Lord Anthony Jacobs, said the following: “The University sets the parameters and rules for any demonstration on the campus—and these rules must never [emphasis his] be violated. There are limitations for the safety and security of all. If they are broken or ignored, then chaos ensues—and the future rights of all students to demonstrate are put at risk.”

As we begin the new academic year AMID THE TENSE NATURE OF CURRENT EVENTS IN ISRAEL, I would like briefly to take up this theme. Tolerance and mutual respect are at times put to the test when people express extreme opinions diametrically opposed to yours. On the other hand, tolerance and mutual respect for the ideas of others are not banner slogans to be waived in justification of all demonstrations and protestations. Especially on campus.

The free exchange of ideas for which the university (small u) is celebrated and the promotion of tolerance for which our University is known are not unrestricted principles. The challenge for an administration, be it university, government, or ANY organization, is to determine when the expression of certain ideas should be banned, when a certain amount of intolerance may be justified, in order to avoid chaos. A challenge for university education is to instill respect for this administrative challenge as a true measure of democracy.

This means allowing student demonstrations on campus, but seeing to it that they are FREE OF INCITEMENT. This means bringing to campus exponents of the rainbow of political views for which Israel is famous and encouraging civil and civilized debate both among spokesmen and between spokesmen and students. This means listening to student grievances and acting upon those that are real but also showing understanding for those that are perceived.

Neither students nor administration must overstep the fine line of the challenge or distance itself from it. The result will be intellectual vibrancy without stultification or over-fermentation. IT IS AN OUTCOME IN THE PROUD TRADITION OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM, OF ALLOWING THE EXCHANGE OF VIEWS, HOWEVER DISSIDENT, BUT AVOIDING A DELIBERATE PROVOCATION TO INFLAME PASSIONS, WHICH HAS NO PLACE ON CAMPUS.

I began by referring to Lord Jacobs’ remarks at our 28th Board of Governors Meeting. He quoted the renowned deaf American educator Helen Keller, who once said: “The highest result of education is tolerance.” Lord Jacobs went on to comment: “That has been this University’s mission.” He then pointedly added, “We do not want to subvert this mission, but neither do we want to misuse democracy.” That is the prescriptive challenge for this new academic year.

Prof. Yehuda Hayuth