Reacting to national attention about a woman convicted of bombing the U.S. Capitol being invited to speak on campus, President Nan Keohane sent a response late last week to a website that has hosted much of the debate.
Becky Thompson, visiting associate professor of African and African-American Studies, invited Laura Whitehorn to address a graduate seminar on the topic of HIV infection in prisons. Protesting the U.S. invasion of Grenada, Whitehorn served 14 years in prison for her role in placing a bomb that damaged several Capitol offices in 1983.
In writing her response, Keohane did not directly address the appropriateness of bringing Whitehorn to campus, a decision that some, including the Duke Conservative Union, characterize as supporting a terrorist. Keohane did praise the dialogue sparked by a columnist on the website, OpinionJournal.com.
"We've encouraged a debate about this incident for the same reason we resist pressuring our faculty, students or departments in their selection of speakers: We are committed to an open airing of ideas and opinions," Keohane wrote. "One of our nation's greatest values, from the earliest days of our republic, is the freedom for people to express their thoughts openly.
"Students, faculty members and others in the Duke community benefit from hearing and debating a wide variety of ideas. We have confidence in their ability to analyze and critique the diverse arguments they hear. This activity is central to a healthy democracy, and an essential hallmark of our universities."
As of late Sunday night, the Opinion Journal had not yet published the letter on its website.
Keohane said she has received hundreds of e-mails since the website--which is run in conjunction with The Wall Street Journal's editorial page--picked up the story and included her e-mail address.
"We've had hundreds and hundreds of e-mails about it, because there's a hyperlink to my e-mail so it's very easy for people to just dash off responses," Keohane said last week in a meeting with Chronicle editors.
Keohane's response follows an earlier reply to critics of Whitehorn and Thompson by David Jarmul, Duke's associate vice president for news and communication. Jarmul said the DCU's criticisms threatened Whitehorn's freedom of speech, a value he called central to a university's mission.
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