In his address to the entering class of 2018 on Saturday, University President Peter Salovey emphasized the centrality of free expression to the University and education at large.

Telling students that they “need to be able to discuss intelligently anything and everything,” Salovey challenged freshmen to engage with difficult topics and to champion intellectual diversity during their four years at Yale.

“We value freedom of expression precisely because it provides a forum for the new, the provocative, the disturbing and the unorthodox,” Salovey said, quoting a 1975 report on free expression at Yale compiled by a committee led by Yale Professor C. Vann Woodward.
Salovey began his address by discussing the changes — notably, a tremendous increase in diversity — that Yale’s student body has undergone since he first arrived in New Haven as a graduate student in 1981.

He then moved on to the recent spate of politically charged events on college campuses in which invitations to controversial speakers have been withdrawn and freedom of expression threatened. From there, Salovey entered into a full-throated defense of free expression on University campuses.

Drawing from the Woodward report, Salovey told freshmen that free expression is essential to the University, even if it at times makes members of the community uncomfortable.

“Free expression must be protected even when social norms are compromised by the speaker,” Salovey said.

He added that a key element of free expression is being willing to disagree with others.

Salovey challenged the lass of 2018 to do just that. He added that students need to learn to disagree not only with each other, but also with teachers and, for that matter, with him.

Still, he noted, disagreements at the University need to remain civil.

“A year from now, I hope the class of 2018 will be conscious of the inherent tensions between, on the one hand, the primacy of unfettered thought and expression at the University, and, at the same time, the importance of civility and friendship in our community,” Salovey told the News. “I hope we all believe that honestly sharing ideas — even when we disagree — makes our community stronger.”

Salovey’s address followed welcoming remarks by Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, who took office at the end of July. Holloway’s address to the class of 2018 was his first as dean of Yale College.

In his speech, Holloway addressed the dual themes of humility and the value of the liberal arts.

“Your accomplishments are real, but they are not only yours to own,” Holloway said.

After his discussion of humility, Holloway embarked on a defense of the liberal arts. Saying that a Yale education would prepare students to ask difficult questions, Holloway told the freshmen that “the purpose of education is to lead us to some sense of citizenship.”

In an email to the News, Holloway said he hopes freshmen will accept his challenge “to embrace the rich complexity of Yale” and pursue a wide range of unfamiliar experiences

“I am … very excited about delivering the address and eager to learn if my message to the class of 2018 resonates over the course of their four years here,” Holloway said.

Students expressed mixed reactions to Salovey’s address. While those interviewed agreed with what Salovey said, some questioned the choice of topic for the convocation address.

“It was a good topic, but the wrong venue,” Adam Lohman ’18 said. “This was our welcoming address. I felt like it should have been more of a welcome.”

Erin Krebs ’18 described the topic as “a little bit out of left field.”

Still, others expressed appreciation for Salovey’s advocacy of free speech and disagreement.

“I come from a very homogeneous community,” said Tony Jiang ’18, who hails from San Jose, Calif. “It just made it hit me that Yale was much different from where I’m from.”

Klevi Golloshi ’18 echoed Jiang’s sentiment, saying that the ability to express different views is “what makes Yale special.”

Students interviewed gave Holloway’s speech broadly positive reviews. Devyani Aggarwal ’18 said that her eyes watered at the end of Holloway’s address.

Both Salovey and Holloway delivered their addresses twice, as Woolsey Hall is not large enough to accommodate the entire freshman class.

Correction: August 27, 2014

A previous version of this article attributed to University President Peter Salovey several statements that he was in fact quoting from a 1975 report on free expression at Yale compiled by a committee led by Yale Professor C. Vann Woodward.