A Letter to Our Admitted Students

May 2024

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Richard Saller standing by Stanford columns

Photo: Andrew Brodhead

World and national events have unsettled the campus over the past year. It is essential that we work to re-create a culture of civil discourse as a foundation for excellence in research, education, and clinical care. To that end, newly admitted undergraduates received this introductory letter:

Congratulations on earning a place in Stanford University’s Class of 2028! This is a moment to celebrate the hard work and determination that have brought you to this moment, and also to reflect on the next stage of your education. Amid all the challenging and polarizing issues being discussed in the world right now, you may be wondering what kind of intellectual community you would be joining at Stanford. And we think this is important to address directly.  

Stanford strives to provide its students with a liberal education, which means one that broadens your mind and horizons by exposing you to different fields of study and different ways of thinking. A rigorous liberal education depends on questioning your assumptions and seeing if they hold up. As a member of the Stanford community, you will quickly learn that freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression are core values at Stanford. They animate our central missions of teaching and research. Stanford is also a place that values diversity in its broadest sense—which includes diversity of thought.  

This means that every member of the Stanford community is accepted and valued for their unique characteristics and ideals. It is precisely the distinct attributes each community member brings to Stanford that, when openly and constructively shared, create a vibrant educational environment where the search for truth is advanced.      

‘As a part of your education you should expect, and indeed welcome, disagreement. We aim for an environment where we are tough on ideas, but generous and respectful to one another.’

Our Founding Grant commits the university to “teach the blessings of liberty regulated by law, and . . . the great principles of government as derived from the inalienable rights of man to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The “blessings of liberty” are a middle point between mere license (doing whatever you want) and conformity (doing what others want you to do). Liberty to think and say what you believe involves taking responsibility as well. It requires recognizing the freedom and rights of others and helping to create the conditions that make everyone’s freedom possible here on campus and in our broader society.  

Freedom of expression does not include the right to threaten or harass others and prevent them from engaging as equal participants in campus life. But the freedom of expression necessary for fulfilling the mission of a university—and for a democracy—does require allowing speech that some may find offensive or wrong. Many of humanity’s greatest advances have come from ideas that offended conventional wisdom and seemed heretical at first. In a university, the remedy for ideas that you think are wrong is not to seek to silence them but to counter them with better ideas, evidence, and arguments. 

As a part of your education you should expect, and indeed welcome, disagreement. You will undoubtedly encounter and hear ideas that are contrary to your beliefs and values. Stanford culture will expect and demand that when you face disagreements that you respond with respect for the humanity of those you disagree with, and with an open and curious mind. We aim for an environment where we are tough on ideas, but generous and respectful to one another. . . .

Your education at Stanford is designed to prepare you for life as a citizen. . . . Whether it is your dormitory, your town, or your workplace, and regardless of what career path you eventually choose, you should have the skills to critically and constructively engage with those who are different from you.

Richard Saller is president of Stanford University.

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