Statement on the Importance of Constructive Dialogue

September 22, 2020

In a diverse university community committed to rigorous inquiry and free expression, disagreements — intellectual, political, ethical, or otherwise — will inevitably arise. At UCLA, my hope is that we do not feel threatened by differences of opinion but instead view them as opportunities to engage and learn from each other. With faculty, students, and staff hailing from all over the world, UCLA affords all of us the benefit of encountering, considering, wrestling with, and responding to ideas we have never come across before, even those that make us uncomfortable.  Every individual, every field of endeavor, grows and improves through exposure to new information, overlooked perspectives, and novel solutions to vexing problems. A transformative UCLA experience should help cultivate both the confidence to speak one’s mind and the humility to listen to those who are different from us. Considering the views of others can help us see mistakes in our own assumptions, gaps in our understanding, and flaws in our conclusions. Over time, exposure to competing viewpoints makes us stronger, helps us refine our own ideas and more fully understand our complex world.

The false comfort of intellectual echo chambers will not empower us to flourish in a diverse and increasingly interconnected global environment. An ideological orthodoxy — which closes us off to nuance, dissent, inconvenient facts, or uncomfortable opinions — can lead to intellectual stagnation. We must push ourselves to go deeper in our thinking and to broaden our ability to engage others with different perspectives.

In recent years the sharpness of disagreements, both on college campuses and in larger society, has too often resulted in harsh caricatures, dehumanizing language, and the refusal to see and hear others. We are better than this. Principled, fact-based analysis and respectful engagement can open our minds. Inevitably, however, hostility, belligerence and insult make us defensive, resentful, and closed off from each other. Learning, change and progress are unlikely in such an environment. While we fully support every Bruin’s right to free speech, we also ask each member of our community to consider their responsibilities to one another, to sustaining a healthy intellectual environment, to hearing as well as being heard, and to creating a community in which the well-being of those who are different from us is as important as the well-being of those who are like us. At UCLA, we seek to create a culture of exploration rather than coercion, of debate rather than demonization. We must elevate constructive dialogue over destructive demagoguery.

These are appropriately high standards for a world-class university. Living up to these standards — and balancing the responsibilities that come with being a member of a diverse community — means remembering that even if we vehemently disagree with each other’s ideas we must fundamentally respect each other’s humanity, and act accordingly. 

Emily A. Carter
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost