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At the Aspen Ideas Festival, A Debate Over Campus Debates

By July 1, 2016

Yesterday, FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff participated in a debate on “Academic Freedom, Safe Spaces, Dissent, and Dignity” at the Aspen Ideas Festival, along with Yale Law School Professor Stephen Carter, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, Wesleyan University President Michael S. Roth, University of Missouri Interim President Michael Middleton, commentator Kirsten Powers, and moderator Jeffrey Goldberg—among other distinguished panelists.

In advance of the debate, Greg shared a short piece laying out eight misconceptions about free speech on campus. Greg explains why campus free speech is threatened by administrators (and the students who encourage them) and why the issue is far broader than political correctness, speech codes, free speech zones, or left-versus-right partisanship.

The discussion of campus speech opened with an informative discussion of academic freedom by University of Chicago professor and preeminent First Amendment scholar Geoffrey Stone. The panels can be viewed on The Aspen Institute’s YouTube channel:

Greg’s panel begins at approximately 40 minutes into the video.  

Writing for The Atlantic, which co-hosted the debate with The Aspen Institute, Conor Friedersdorf highlighted an exchange between Yale Law School Professor Stephen Carter and Michael S. Roth, the president of Wesleyan University. Carter argued (among other things) that an increase in the number of administrators—more inclined to “damp down problems” rather than to encourage more speech—threatened campus speech. Roth, responding to Carter’s argument, suggested that academic freedom is a narrow right. As the exchange developed, Greg responded to a hypothetical raised by University of Missouri Interim President Michael Middleton, bringing up a real-world example of offensive speech that universities adequately manage every day. It’s well worth a few minutes to read the panelists’ exchange.