On Oct. 2, a journalist entered the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul. He was an outspoken critic of the Saudi government and wrote for the Washington Post. Once those consulate doors closed, he never came back out.
Government officials of several countries, and most recently the CIA, believe he was murdered on orders from the Saudi crown prince.
Today, around the world, a free and robust press is under assault. Journalists face jail time, or worse. Online forums are censored.
News organizations are dubbed “enemies of the people” and fact-based reporting is smeared as fake news.
I am a moral and political philosopher and an educator, by passion as well as profession. I have devoted my life’s work to better understanding – and strengthening – the groundwork of both American democracy and education. For any democracy to survive and flourish, no single principle is more fundamental than the free and robust exchange of ideas – especially when we disagree.
Unhindered press, transformative higher education, engaged civic and business leaders: These are linchpins for open and free expression in American society. These stand proudly as the pillars of a free world.
>> READ MORE: Stop the war on a free press | Editorial
Benjamin Franklin was America’s first great newspaperman and one of the greatest champions of a free press and free speech. “When this support is taken away,” he wrote, “the constitution of a free society is dissolved.”
When you lead the University of Pennsylvania, which Franklin founded, open expression is not some abstraction. It’s the bedrock of all that we do. Diverse and unexpected ideas are as foundational to Penn as they are to the survival of a free society.
During times when the tendency to treat political adversaries as mortal enemies is rampant, honest debate and peaceful dissenters are being stifled, and when hate crimes are surging, universities such as Penn have a special obligation. Our fundamental mission is to open things up.
I am proud to say that Penn is a place where unexpected ideas are welcome and given a fair chance to stand up to rigorous research and spirited debate.
This is not just a university issue; this is a universal issue. It transcends social divisions and party lines. In this, Penn joins other champions for open inquiry and constitutional democracy, including the Philadelphia Inquirer.
We all depend upon excellent journalism, honest reporting, and the complete and accurate representation of a story, to allow us to succeed at the difficult task of democratic self-government.
I am grateful for journalists who go to work every day to champion open inquiry and constitutional democracy. In many ways, these days are darker than we have seen in some time. But every day, you go to work on behalf of free speech and honest and open inquiry. Penn is honored to undertake this essential work by your side. If we hold true and continue our work in the face of any challenge, together, then I am confident we will soon see much brighter days again.
Amy Gutmann is president of the University of Pennsylvania. This piece is adapted from remarks she gave on Nov. 28 as a recipient of the Inquirer’s Industry Icon Award.