Published: Dec. 1, 2016

Chancellor DiStefano

Philip P. DiStefano, Chancellor

This week, in CU Boulder Today and in local news coverage, you may have seen that conservative journalist Milo Yiannopoulos will be coming to CU Boulder on Jan. 25 at the invitation of two student groups, the College Republicans and Turning Point USA. He is clearly a controversial speaker with a bent for stirring strong reactions.  
Some of you have expressed your concerns on social media, in letters to my office, and to me in person that CU Boulder is allowing such a controversial speaker to hold an event in a campus building. I understand those concerns fully and I personally believe that civil discourse is the best way to advance better understanding of oppositional viewpoints.  I believe that discrimination and harassment have no place on our campus. As the chancellor, it is also my duty to uphold our dedication to free expression of viewpoints on the campus and to allow all student groups to host speakers of their choosing. This does not mean that my views are congruent with every speaker that comes to campus or that the university endorses the viewpoint of the speaker. To be a university dedicated to the free exchange of ideas, our students should be exposed to views that are both in line with their beliefs and those that are not. 
Student groups inviting speakers has a long tradition at CU Boulder. For those unfamiliar with this, student organizations often decide that they would like to invite a speaker or performer to campus, and directly reach out to the speaker or agency to make arrangements for the event.  The University Administration does not make the invitation but works to support our students in their decisions to invite speakers. 
Yiannopoulis is not the first controversial speaker we have had on our the campus, nor will he be the last. Prior speakers espousing a broad spectrum of positions and political views include Edward Snowden (via videoconference), Antonin Scalia, Karl Rove, Howard Dean, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Ashcroft, Ann Coulter and Rudy Guiliani to name only a few.
Some of these speakers make us uncomfortable, for their beliefs, for the way they express those beliefs or because of what they represent.  What makes one of us uncomfortable with one speaker may not hold true for another.  This is the fundamental role of a university—to be that place where you can listen to speakers you support or oppose and then make up your mind on what you believe. Doing so sharpens intellects and broadens perspectives, even when it’s uncomfortable.