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12/10/2019 - Jackson, Miss.

By Dr. Alfred Rankins Jr.
Commissioner of Higher Education

Universities — regardless of size, location, or mission — serve as places where those who seek new knowledge come together and freely exchange ideas. Faculty teach in their areas of expertise and students come to classes, whether traditional or virtual, to learn and expand their understanding of those subjects. Those of us who have taught will tell you that through the constant exchange in diversity of thought, we also learn from our students. A university is a shining example of a marketplace of ideas.

The free exchange of ideas in this marketplace is most productive, robust and inclusive when everyone's opinion is respected and unabatedly expressed. Freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment and must be nurtured and preserved on university campuses. This means protecting the speech of conservatives, liberals, moderates, in short, everyone, not just those with whom we agree.

We may not all share the same views, but we can all agree on the importance of free speech. Protecting speech for any of us protects it for all of us. The First Amendment affords us all tremendous power — the power to freely express our ideas. We should remember that with great power comes great responsibility. We are a better society when we hold the ideas of those who disagree with us in equal regard to our own ideas.

Jackson State University recently became the sixth public university in Mississippi to gain a "green light" rating from FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. FIRE is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America's colleges and universities.

The green light rating signifies that we have earned the highest rating from FIRE on policies regarding speech on our campuses. Jackson State University joins Alcorn State University, Delta State University, Mississippi State University, the University of Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi with a green light rating.

With the addition of Jackson State, we become the second state, after Arizona, to have all our universities currently rated by FIRE earn a green light rating. Mississippi University for Women and Mississippi Valley State University also have strong free speech policies, but they have not been rated by FIRE. Mississippi has more green light schools than any other state except North Carolina.

We all have a right to hold our own ideas, viewpoints and beliefs, as well as a responsibility to express them in a civil and respectful manner. It is important to have policies in place to ensure these rights are protected for all. I am pleased with and commend our universities for leading the way.

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The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning governs the public universities in Mississippi, including Alcorn State University; Delta State University; Jackson State University; Mississippi State University including the Mississippi State University Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine; Mississippi University for Women; Mississippi Valley State University; the University of Mississippi including the University of Mississippi Medical Center; and the University of Southern Mississippi.

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