Recap: 2018 FIRE Faculty Conference

October 19, 2018

More than 60 faculty members and graduate students from across the country gathered in Chicago last week for the 2018 FIRE Faculty Conference. The conference kicked off on Thursday evening with a welcome reception at the Omni Hotel and continued on Friday and Saturday at Loyola University Chicago’s downtown Water Tower campus. Over two days of paper discussions and panel sessions, including an impromptu discussion of the recent “Sokal Squared” publishing hoax, attendees discussed a variety of issues related to academic freedom, free expression, and faculty activism on campus.

The papers chosen for the conference were drawn from the more than 100 proposals submitted during our open call for submissions earlier this year. Discussions at the conference were oriented around the outstanding work of these professors:

  • J. Michael Bailey, Northwestern University, The Academy’s Sex Research Minefield
  • Jeremy Bailey, University of Houston, Academic Diversity and the Problem of Strings
  • Linda Frey, University of Montana, and Marsha Frey, Kansas State University, “There’s more than one way into the castle:” Strategies to Persuade the Faculty to Endorse the Chicago Principles on Free Expression
  • John Hasnas, Georgetown University, How to Change University Policy: A Case Study
  • Amna Khalid and Jeff Snyder, Carleton College, Not a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy: Why Left-Leaning Faculty Should Care About Threats to Free Expression on Campus
  • Jason Marsh, St. Olaf College, No platforming is (still) at odds with Liberalism
  • David Rabban, University of Texas, When Should Offensive Campus Speech Be Regulated More Than Speech in the Public Sphere?

All the conference papers will be made available when FIRE publishes the 2018 Faculty Conference Proceedings later this year. In the meantime, check out last year’s papers here.

The conference papers included a mix of original research, personal reflections, and practical “how-to” case studies. Each panel also included comments from discussants and a lengthy Q&A session. The papers and the participants represented a variety of viewpoints from multiple disciplines, and as a result the Q&A sessions were lively and full of constructive disagreement. As one professor noted, these discussions were a highlight of the conference: “it was great to hear the opinions of academics whose views are so opposite from my own. I ended up feeling more confirmed in my own thoughts, and with a better understanding of the ‘other side.’”

On Friday evening, Geoffrey Stone, the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, delivered the keynote address. Stone, an expert on constitutional law and the First Amendment, chaired the Committee on Free Expression at the University of Chicago. The report released by the committee in 2015 is known as the “Chicago Statement,” and has been adopted or endorsed by 47 institutions and faculty bodies around the country. In his keynote, Stone discussed historic free speech legal cases and provided context for the University of Chicago’s decision to convene the Committee on Free Expression. A video of the keynote will be available soon.

The two main goals of the faculty conference are to provide attendees with an open forum to discuss issues related free speech and academic freedom while giving attendees concrete tools to make changes on their own campuses. As one of this year’s faculty participants put it, the conference “helped sharpen my thinking about free speech principles, it motivated me to want to affect more change, and gave me tools to think about how to do it.” We hope everyone who attended this year had a similarly valuable experience!

FIRE would like to thank everyone who took part in this year’s conference. And if you’re a faculty member or grad student interested in defending civil liberties on America’s campuses, considering joining the FIRE Faculty Network!