Campus free speech, academic freedom focus of conference

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | March 14, 2019

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Set for March 21-23, “Academic Freedom and Free Speech on Campus” includes a keynote address by Emory professor Deborah Lipstadt, who won a high-profile legal battle for historical truth when she was sued for libel by a Holocaust denier. Photo by Osnat Perelshtein.

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The role of academic free speech at institutions of higher education will be the focus of a multi-disciplinary conference hosted this month by Emory’s Office of Undergraduate Affairs and Division of Campus Life in the Office of the Provost.

Academic Freedom and Free Speech on Campus,” scheduled for March 21-23 at the Emory Conference Center, aspires to generate conversation about ideas, laws, policies and practices related to academic freedom and free speech on college campuses. 

The first of its kind at Emory, the conference underscores the role that institutions of higher education continue to serve on the forefront of debate, deliberation and knowledge creation, a commitment rooted within the pillars of the university’s Strategic Framework.

Since implementing its own Respect for Open Expression Policy in 2013, Emory has developed robust programs to engage the campus community on topics of free speech and protest, gaining attention from colleges and universities across the nation, says Michael Shutt, senior director for Campus Life, who recently spoke about Emory’s policy at a national meeting of the American College Personnel Association.

One aim of the conference is “to take the opportunity to bring people together to continue to interrogate what is happening around the country,” he says.

Designed to explore a variety of perspectives on issues ranging from academic freedom and free speech to campus protests, dissent and the role of “safe spaces,” the event seeks to stimulate debate and discussion, examine challenges at the intersection of laws and policies, and share promising new practices. 

Both the Emory University Senate’s Committee for Open Expression and the Open Expression Observers program were created as a direct result of Emory’s policy, which affirms the university’s commitment to open expression while acknowledging the challenges and tensions it can create within an ever-changing community. 

“When Emory developed its policy six years ago, our approach was to engage our entire community, extending through student and academic affairs to alumni, government affairs, communications and law enforcement,” Shutt says. “We are truly working on this as a community, moving from a place of crisis management to a place of student development.” 

Diverse slate of speakers

The conference is open to everyone, but may be especially helpful to faculty; scholars who engage in research and teach about free speech and open expression; student affairs professionals and university administrators interested in developing policies and practices; and students seeking to explore their rights and responsibilities. 

The agenda will feature panel discussions, keynote addresses and facilitated dialogue.

Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory, will be the keynote speaker on Friday, March 22. Sigal Ben-Porath, professor of education, philosophy and political science at the University of Pennsylvania, and Jacob Levy, Tomlinson professor of political theory at McGill University, will engage in a keynote discussion on Saturday, March 23.

Additional speakers and participants include:

  • Christa Acampora, deputy provost for academic affairs, Emory University
  • Karen Andes, Emory assistant professor of global health, Emory University
  • Henry Bayerle, associate professor of classics, Oxford College of Emory University
  • David Bernstein, George Mason University Foundation Professor of Law, George Mason University
  • Burt Buchtinec, Emory University Police Department captain
  • Joseph Crespino, Jimmy Carter Professor of American History, Emory University
  • Dabney Evans, associate professor of global health, Emory University
  • Lisa Garvin, acting dean of the chapel and spiritual life, Emory University
  • Michele Hempfling, associate dean of Campus Life and director of residential education and services, Oxford College of Emory University
  • Jonathan Holloway, provost, Northwestern University
  • Frank Lechner, professor of sociology, Emory University
  • Ed Lee III, senior director of Alben W. Barkley Forum for Debate, Deliberation, and Dialogue, Emory University
  • Nancy Leong, professor of law, University of Denver
  • Greg Lukianoff, president and CEO, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
  • Courtnay Oddman, assistant director of residence life, Emory University
  • Zach Raetzman, Emory University student
  • Pamela Scully, vice provost of undergraduate education, Emory University
  • Julie Seaman, associate professor of law and associate dean for academic affairs, Emory University
  • Eric Segall, Kathy and Lawrence Ashe Professor of Law, Georgia State University
  • Nancy Seideman, vice president of academic communications, Emory University
  • Stephen Sencer, senior vice president and general counsel, Emory University
  • Fred Smith Jr., associate professor of law, Emory University
  • Michael Shutt, senior director of Campus Life, Emory University
  • Alexander Tsesis, Raymond & Mary Simon Chair in Constitutional Law and professor of law, Loyola University Chicago
  • C. White, vice president for student affairs, Kennesaw State University
  • Bobby Woodard, senior vice president for student affairs, Auburn University
  • Alexander “Sasha” Volokh, associate professor of law, Emory University

Registration fees include participation in the conference, Thursday opening reception, Friday evening reception, breakfasts, lunches, and parking at the Emory Conference Center. The conference is free for Emory faculty and staff, as well as both Emory and non-Emory students. General registration is $100, and the fee for continuing legal education (three credits) is $15.