Why Can't We All Just Get Along? The Debate over Free Speech on Campus

AHA Session 68
Friday, January 4, 2019: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Continental A (Hilton Chicago, Lobby Level)
Claire Potter, The New School
Samantha Harris, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
Sean Decatur, Kenyon College
Stanley Fish, Florida International University and Benjamin Cardozo School of Law

Session Abstract

Every few weeks or so there seems to be another controversy about what kind of speech belongs on a college campus, a debate that began with the implementation of the first campus speech codes in the 1980s and accelerated during the "culture wars" of the 1990s. Originally intended to foster a productive learning environment, and dating back to at least a century to the resignations of historians Charles Beard and James Harvey Robinson in protest of Columbia University's attempt to suppress anti-war sentiment on its faculty, restrictions on campus speech have never been uncontroversial. Today these disputes are mostly centered on the barriers often raised by students on the left, or by university administrations, to appearances of high profile conservative or radical speakers; the disciplining of faculty for social media and classroom utterances; and how to promote principled disagreement when students and faculty engage highly politicized issues.

Among other things, the panel will cover:

  • controversies over guest speakers;
  • politics in the humanities classroom;
  • the relationship between speech and harm;
  • the disciplining of faculty and students for incautious, inflammatory or bigoted speech.

A politically and institutionally diverse panel of speakers will articulate the possible positions that might be taken about whether to regulate campus speech, and what the university interest in regulating speech is. But the panel will also propose solutions to the current stalemate, one in which the escalation of student violence against speakers, demands for resignation or termination, and litigation against universities for suppression of speech may have distracted us from imagining what an open intellectual climate that encourages disagreement and dispute might look like.

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