Free debate and discussion is at risk at America’s colleges and universities. Students are increasingly told that there are some topics where they aren’t free to disagree. The purpose of higher education is to promote critical thinking, facilitate deeper understanding of important issues, and empower students to engage in open dialogue. That’s why FIRE launched a new program that brings the free exchange of ideas directly to college students: FIRE Debates.

FIRE Debates brings leading figures to colleges and universities for Oxford-style debates on controversial topics relevant to today’s students. The debates remind students that free inquiry and open discussion play a central role in both education and democracy. FIRE aims to show students across the country that open debate and dialogue is not harmful or detrimental, but healthy, productive, and even fun. FIRE hopes that students come to the debates with an open mind and leave with a better understanding of opposing viewpoints, a renewed belief that all students’ and speakers’ opinions deserve to be heard, and a motivation to debate difficult topics.


The Second Amendment should be amended.

May 3, 2016
University of Chicago,
Ida Noyes Hall (3rd Floor Theater)
6:00 p.m. CDT

This event is free and open to the public—get your ticket here.


Zachary Elkins

Associate Professor
University of Texas at Austin


Clark Neily

Senior Attorney
Institute for Justice

Gun violence, especially mass shootings, catapults the conversation about the meaning of the Second Amendment into the forefront of national conversation. In large part, this discussion is centered around what James Madison and the Founding Fathers meant when the Second Amendment was written over 200 years ago. But are gun control advocates better off working to amend the Second Amendment? Can gun control exist with how the Second Amendment is written and interpreted?

This debate was hosted in proud partnership with the University of Chicago Institute of Politics.

If you missed it live you can listen to the audio or watch the video here.

Hashtag activism garners attention but is not enough for outcomes.

March 23, 2016
University of Pennsylvania
Harrison Auditorium at the Penn Museum
Entrance of 33rd Street
7:00 p.m. EDT

This event is free and open to the public—get your tickets here.


Zeynep Tufekci



Zellie Imani

Educator and Community Organizer

All it takes is a catchy tweet to launch an activism campaign and everyone from politicians to grassroots advocates are engaging in “hashtag activism” to spread their message online. But is social media activism really effective in the long run? While well-known campaigns like #BlackLivesMatter appear to have lasting influence, a debate continues over the effectiveness of others. Is hashtag activism a meaningful vehicle for advocacy in our 21st-century society, where social media has redefined how we communicate? Or does it only garner the public’s attention momentarily, without creating lasting change?

If you missed it live you can listen to the audio or watch the video here.

  • Share this debate:

College students should be allowed to take smart drugs.

November 2, 2015
George Washington University
Jack Morton Auditorium
Reception: 5:00–5:45 p.m.
Debate: 6:00–7:30 p.m.

Get your tickets - Free for students and GW alumni


Dr. Anjan Chatterjee

UPenn & Chair of Neurology, Pennsylvania Hospital


Nita Farahany

Duke University & Director, Duke Science & Society


Dr. Eric Racine

Neuroethics Research Unit, IRCM


Nicole Vincent

Assoc. Prof. of Philosophy, Law, and Neuroscience
Georgia State University

College is more competitive than ever. Late nights studying for exams, writing papers, and participating in extracurricular activities make students across the country feel that they need an edge. A study done by a University of Kentucky professor revealed that more than 30 percent of students have tried a “smart drug” to help them focus and stay alert.

Smart drugs include off-label use of drugs prescribed for narcolepsy and ADHD, among others. Some students and administrators are angry, saying that students who use smart drugs have an unfair advantage. Are students who use smart drugs cheaters, or are colleges too uptight?

If you missed it live you can listen to the audio or watch the video here.

  • Share this debate:

College athletes should be allowed to be paid.

October 20, 2015
7:00 p.m. CT
Texas A&M University
Rudder Theatre


Jay Bilas

College Basketball Analyst


Oliver Luck

Executive Vice President of Regulatory Affairs


Darryl Bruffett

Debate Moderator

Americans love college sports. Millions of fans participate in the madness each March, and college football bowl games have become a holiday institution. But for many college athletes, the aggregate time spent practicing, playing, and traveling equals or surpasses the amount of time spent in the classroom and studying.

For NCAA athletes, being a student-athlete can feel like having a full-time job. In return for their commitment, athletes of many major college sports programs are awarded scholarships. But is a full ride enough when college sports events rake in millions of dollars from televising and merchandise? Is a scholarship sufficient or should college athletes be allowed to be paid?

If you missed it live you can listen to the audio here or watch the video here.

  • Share this debate: