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Elson S. Floyd, Ph.D. - 11/14/07

The Marketplace of Ideas

To fulfill its goals as an educational institution, a public research university must encourage the free exchange of ideas. Exposed to diverse viewpoints, our students learn and grow.

That principle extends well beyond the walls of academia, of course. Citizens, too, need to have access to a full range of opinions and ideas as they make the decisions that are fundamental to our democracy.

Last week in Seattle, the Federal Communications Commission held a hearing on possible media ownership rule changes. Among those testifying was Elizabeth Blanks Hindman, an associate professor of journalism at Washington State University’s Murrow School of Communication. She testified that the proposed changes would not serve the public interest and would further consolidate ownership of broadcast outlets.

A public university needs to be an active participant in the intellectual life of the state it serves. It is always good to see members of our faculty bringing their expertise to bear on issues of public concern.
Although I was unable to attend the hearing, I asked that my views also be entered into the public record. I thought I could offer a distinct perspective, since I most recently served as president of the University of Missouri system, which has one of our nation’s leading journalism schools. My current university, of course, is the proud home of the Murrow School. Educating the next generation of media professionals is vital to the missions of both universities.

I believe that my experience in Missouri gave me a unique perspective on the importance of community newspapers and other media outlets.

Missouri has the largest number of community- and family-owned newspapers in the nation. I would certainly argue that this number adds to the proliferation of information that is necessary to citizens of a democratic society. As multiple media outlets put together different pieces of any important story, a fuller, more accurate picture emerges.

I acknowledge that sometimes the chorus that results from so many media voices is not pleasant for leaders of business, government or institutions of higher education to hear. But our democracy would be far poorer without the robust exchange that is fostered by a free marketplace of ideas.

We need to encourage that spirit, both as a university and as a society.