CONVERSATIONS: Free Speech on Campus

On May 3, 2017, the GLCA Consortium for Teaching and Learning hosted a video-conference “Town Hall” on the topic of “Free Speech on Campuses,” an issue that has generated substantial controversy over the past few years. Taking part in the conversation were faculty from 10 GLCA campuses: Albion, Allegheny, Antioch, Denison, Earlham, Hope, Kenyon, Oberlin, Ohio Wesleyan, and Wabash. The Town Hall was organized by the CTL and facilitated by Steve Volk of Oberlin and a co-director, with Greg Wegner, of the GLCA’s Consortium. The views expressed in the Town Hall are those of the participants, and not of the GLCA or its member colleges.

Two positions helped frame the discussion. The first was a joint statement by Cornel West and Robert George, both of Princeton, who argued that, “All of us should seek respectfully to engage with people who challenge our views,” they wrote,  “And we should oppose efforts to silence those with whom we disagree – especially on college and university campuses.” The second was put forward by Stanley Fish, who suggested, “The university’s normative commitment is to freedom of inquiry, not to freedom of speech.  Freedom of speech is not an academic value.  Accuracy of speech is an academic value; completeness of speech is an academic value; relevance of speech is an academic value.” Our conversation engaged both views and many in-between.

In the Town Hall discussion, faculty members considered such questions as:

  • How does freedom of speech in a private college differ from that of the public square?
  • What considerations should guide a liberal arts college in deciding whom to invite as speakers?
  • How can colleges provide a context that allows for continued dialogue and debate of ideas voiced by an invited speaker or others?

We invite you to join the conversation by watching the video and adding comments, writing follow-up articles, or helping to suggest and frame on-going discussions on your campuses or elsewhere.

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