05.17.24 – Support and protect the exercise of free speech and academic freedom on campus

Dear Oregon State University community, 


Earlier this week, student activists began an extended protest demonstration by establishing an encampment on the Memorial Union quad.  Now that an encampment is underway, I strongly urge Oregon State University’s administration to support and protect the exercise of free speech and academic freedom on campus in no uncertain terms.


The national organizations to which United Academics of Oregon State University (UAOSU) belongs have issued unequivocal statements in defense of the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. 


The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) issued a resolution on January 30, 2024, calling for a bilateral solution to the war in Gaza, and affirming that the weaponization of antisemitism and Islamophobia have no place in “promoting a democratic education that builds understanding and mutual acceptance across different religions, races and ethnic groups.” On November 13, 2023, AFT also passed a resolution on defending free speech on college campuses. Most recently, on May 2, 2024, AFT Oregon’s Executive Council issued a statement affirming the right to peacefully protest, “which includes disruption of ‘business as usual,’ and urging university leaders to engage with protesters and negotiate with their demands. AFT has also provided links to a number of resources that all of us can use to defend free speech, peaceful protest, and democracy.


The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) held a National Day of Action on April 17, 2024, to respond to the fact that bedrock principles of democracy are currently under severe threat on college campuses around the country. On April 24, the national AAUP also condemned the arrest of peacefully protesting students by police and reasserted the organization’s commitment to “stand in solidarity with our AAUP chapters and members standing up for academic freedom and the free speech and associational rights of students and faculty.“ Their full statement defends the rights to free speech and peaceful protest on college campuses.


I want to encourage faculty who have questions or concerns about their exercise of free speech or academic freedom to reach out to your union.


At this historic moment, we’ve seen a variety of responses by different colleges and universities across the nation to student encampments.  We know what works best and what doesn’t. There is no need to meet peaceful protests with unwarranted escalation, including threats to students, unnecessary disciplinary measures and surveillance, or worse, police involvement. Using force in an attempt to silence students only destroys a university’s reputation and any public goodwill and trust in administrators. Listening to the concerns of students and fostering patient dialogue with their leadership teams is what this moment requires above all else. 


Oregon State University has long prided itself as an institution of higher education dedicated to the values of civil rights and justice.  From its pioneering work in establishing the Difference, Power, and Discrimination Program over thirty years ago, its long-lasting annual celebration of the nonviolent protest activities of Martin Luther King, Jr, to the national model it created in 2017 for community dialogue and deliberation over building and place names, Oregon State University has set itself apart for its vision and commitment to social progress.  The administration once again has an opportunity to do right by its students, faculty and staff engaged in voicing their views about the priorities of the university.  Please do not squander the chance to maintain this reputation.



Joseph A. Orosco 

President, United Academics of Oregon State University