At the American Political Science Association’s (APSA) annual meeting today (August 31), University of California President Janet Napolitano challenged the higher education community to help the public distinguish between truth and divisive falsehoods, and to speak out against intolerance and bigotry.
Delivering a keynote address before an audience of leading political scientists, researchers and other academics, Napolitano underscored the challenges of guarding truth and reason in a time when intolerance and hatred appear to be increasingly gaining traction.
“The acts of violence in Charlottesville earlier this month represented an assault on the premises fundamental to our democracy,” said Napolitano, who leads the world’s largest public research university. She called on academics and institutions to safeguard truth and freedom of expression, even when confronted with provocations.
“We must continue to speak out and act against the hateful tactics and goals of white supremacists and neo-Nazis — and ensure that our colleges and universities, and our nation as a whole, remain safe and civil for all.”
Napolitano also raised concerns about the impact of false equivalencies, when real news is labeled as fake news and fake news is spun as truth.
These unique, challenging times require members of the academic community to rise up and speak out, she said, noting that falsehoods undercut the role of democracy and fact-based policy.
“I’m asking that each of you determine the best means, beyond your research and work in the classroom, to help the public distinguish between evil, long-discredited ideologies, and the voice of reason, tolerance and moderation,” Napolitano said.
“All of us in the higher education community must do more to counteract misinformation and outright bigotry.”
Read more in the full text of the speech here.