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UNC Should Foster Intellectual Debate

Such a broad mix of events is indicative of the vital intellectual life of our great University. Our campus community is not afraid to discuss issues that may divide us, and we often look at such opportunities as a chance to broaden our horizons and define -- and sometimes redefine -- our personal beliefs.

That's the same kind of message our admissions staff gave potential students visiting campus last Monday, knowing that some might be caught off guard by the graphic nature of the pro-life exhibit.

They made it clear that as the first public university in America, Carolina has a long history of fostering free speech and intellectually challenging ideas.

Our admissions director told students before they toured campus that they might find the Genocide Awareness Project disturbing but that the University is committed to making sure that diverse opinions can be freely shared.

That's also the kind of message I hope you will keep in mind as you read the guest column by Mr. Horowitz in today's paper. I personally am deeply offended by his message, but I believe that a university community like ours is the right place for such hard issues to be discussed.

Mr. Horowitz's ad has been a lightening rod of debate on campuses across the country in recent weeks.

The few papers that have printed the ad have been labeled as insensitive.

At some campuses where the ad ran, protests have broken out.

At others, papers were stolen from racks or burned to prevent distribution.

We cannot be afraid of issues and beliefs that are contrary to our own. We must be willing to examine them and learn from them.

I would suggest that to be truly educated and informed, we must be willing to look at all sides of an issue -- even those with which we disagree.

In the case of Mr. Horowitz's ad, I consider it despicable and shameful, diminishing the cost of slavery and damaging the self-respect of an entire race.

We all have the personal freedom to reject the arguments he outlines in the ad, but such disagreement should not stifle debate.

The free exchange of ideas has deep roots at Carolina.

The University was born in the shadow of a new federal government that championed individual rights, particularly free speech. Thus it is no great surprise that this institution has continued to cherish and encourage this important freedom, often going to great lengths to protect it.

Consider the Speaker Ban Law of the early 1960s. School of Law Dean Gene Nichol wrote a recent column for The News & Observer of Raleigh detailing the strong leadership of our chancellor during that trying era, William B. Aycock, who vehemently challenged the law. The law forbade state campuses from hosting speakers who were "known Communists" or "advocated the overthrow of the Constitution."

Chancellor Aycock worked tirelessly to repeal the ban and assure that Carolina and the other public universities in North Carolina could once more become arenas of free expression.

"It would be far better to close the University than to let a cancer eat away at the spirit of inquiry and learning," Chancellor Aycock said of the Speaker Ban Law.

How right he was!

Today, free speech is again part of the basic underpinning of our great University.

We should be aware, however, that threats remain and that there are those who would take advantage of our liberal stance.

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Indeed, Mr. Horowitz's ad and column are the kinds of issues that can test our commitment to free expression. We should not allow ourselves to be divided and conquered.

As a premier institution of higher learning that places a premium on freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry, we should demonstrate the courage of our convictions and continue to show that Carolina is a haven for the free and robust exchange of ideas -- regardless of their popularity or support.

James Moeser is the chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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