College presidents defend importance of free speech

FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2015, file photo, Yale University students and faculty rally to demand that Yale become more inclusive to all students on Cross Campus in New Haven, Conn. As debates about race and other social issues flare on campuses, college presidents in recent weeks have taken steps to assert the importance of the free expression of ideas. (Arnold Gold/New Haven Register via AP, File) MANDATORY CREDIT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — As debates about race and other social issues flare on campuses, college presidents increasingly are intervening to draw a line when cultural sensitivity conflicts with freedom of speech.

At schools including Yale, Williams College and Wesleyan University the leaders have in recent weeks taken steps to assert the importance of the free expression of ideas, even those that some might find objectionable.

School presidents reject critics’ portrayals of today’s college students as coddled and overprotected, but some say students arrive in need of help learning to engage others with contrary opinions.

In their responses to barriers that go up around some discussions, they say they strive to keep conversations going, often reminding students that a commitment to free speech is part of building an inclusive campus.

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