ASU Joins the Free Speech Debate with Lecture Series & Conference

Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education and American Society


Arizona State University’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership (SCETL), a JMC partner program, has put together a remarkable lecture series for the 2017-2018 academic year, titled “Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education,” that explores all sides of the debate over the role of free speech in higher education. The series consists in seven events and one two-day conference with 28 speakers. Guests speakers in the series include former U.S. Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Tom Daschle (D-SD), Jonathan Haidt, Robert George, and Cornel West, all of whom are deeply concerned with the character of discourse in American colleges and universities.

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“The spirit of the whole series is very much focused on dialogue and debate, intellectual diversity,” SCETL Director Paul Carrese said. “We are having people speak all year long who are really not in favor of classical liberal, robust speech, people who are in favor of disinviting speakers and student freedom to protest as well as people like Robbie George and Cornel West who are very strong advocates of robust intellectual debate and bringing a wide range of speaker on campuses. As we said we would be in our mission statement, we want to be seen as a Socratic-dialogue and debate-oriented academic entity.

The centerpiece of this series will be a conference on February 23-24, which will include presentations from 28 prominent scholars across academic disciplines. Among these will be several JMC fellows, including Jim Stoner, Harvey Mansfield, Richard Garnett, Donald Downs, and Laura Beth Nielsen. The conference will also feature a student panel, allowing students to voice concerns about controversies over speech in higher education.  The entire conference is free and open to the public. Registration is available on ASU’s website.

SCETL conference flyer

All of ASU’s “Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity” events, including the conference, are free and open to the public. The events remaining in the series are “Truth Seeking and Freedom of Expression, A Dialogue” featuring Robert George and Cornel West; “Speech on Campus: When Protests Turn Extreme,”a discussion between Alison Stanger and Lucía Martínez Valdivia; “Free Speech on Campus: A Challenge of our Times,” a lecture by Geoffrey R. Stone; and “Why Free Speech is Fundamental,” a lecture by Steven Pinker.

SCETL has also partnered with PBS to produce a documentary from the series.  The pilot event, “Freedom of Speech on Campus? A Conversation with Floyd Abrams” is already available to watch online, as is a discussion between Former U.S. Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Tom Daschle (D-SD), “Disagreement and Civil Dialogue on American Politics and Civic Culture.” Other events from the series are scheduled to air soon. Jonathan Haidt’s talk will air on January 26, and Cornel West and Robby George’s discussion will air on February 2.

The momentum gained from the “Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity” has led SCETL to pursue other related projects. In addition to the online documentation of the series, SCETL plans to publish a book on the topic of free speech and intellectual diversity. The book will be a compilation of all the series speakers’ presentations. Also, SCETL will have another annual series next year on polarization and civil disagreement, which will build off of this year’s free speech theme.

The Jack Miller Center has also recently focused its efforts and resources on the topic of free speech. JMC made the freedom of speech the theme of last year’s Constitution Day Initiative. All of the Constitution Day events sponsored by the JMC last year addressed some aspect of the freedom of speech; several addressed issues of speech on campus. In a new addition to the initiative, JMC also launched an online resource center that explores the history, law, and theory of free speech. Included in this resource center is an extensive entry on Freedom of Speech on Campus.



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