New Brown University president defends free speech

RHODE ISLAND — Free speech was the underlying themein the welcoming remarks given to first-year students at BrownUniversity by their newly inaugurated president, Ruth Simmons.

Simmons stressed the vital importance of free speech and freedomof the press at the university during her Sept. 4 speech markingthe beginning of the academic year.

"By entering this university, each of you has also becomea guardian of free expression," said Simmons, addressingthe new class. "Knowledge is rooted in freedom of speechand inquiry."

Simmons comments were attributed to the "difficult issuesof free speech" that Brown "grappled with" duringthe previous academic year. Simmons did not delve into the detailsof the incident, in which 4,000 copies of the student newspaperwere stolen in the spring semester.

The reasons surrounding the theft stemmed from the BrownDaily Herald‘s publication of a paid advertisement arguingagainst paying reparations to blacks for slavery. The copies werestolen by a coalition of several student groups on Brown’s campus.

At the time of the theft last spring, Simmons had been namedBrown’s president but she had not assumed the position. Untilthe welcoming speech, she had yet to comment on the First Amendmentdebate.

Alluding to the spring controversy, Simmons, a descendant ofslaves and active leader in African-American women’s issues, said,"I won’t ask you to embrace someone who offends your humanitythrough the exercise of free speech. But I would ask you to understandthat the price of your own freedom is permitting the expressionof such opinions."