We haven’t been that nice to the University of Wyoming here on The Torch in recent months. Then again, the university’s recent antics—banning education professor and former Weather Underground leader William Ayers from speaking on the campus and then losing $86,000 of Wyoming taxpayer money trying to defend this indefensible decision in court—haven’t made it the easiest to love.
After being dragged through the mud here and elsewhere, however, I’m encouraged to see UW’s announcement that it will hold a forum on the subject of freedom of expression on its campus. The university’s press release states that the event "will explore issues surrounding the role of speakers invited to universities and colleges, including who can and should speak on campus, what the university’s responsibilities to its public are and whether speakers contribute to the education of students." The four panelists taking part (as stated in the press release) are:
—Joan DelFattore, an award-winning author and professor of English and legal studies at the University of Delaware; author of "Knowledge in the Making: Academic Freedom and Free Speech in America’s Schools and Universities."
—Kenneth Lasson, professor of law at the University of Baltimore; author of "Trembling in the Ivory Tower: Excesses in the Pursuit of Truth and Tenure."
—Robert M. O’Neil, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression in Charlottesville, Va., and past president of the University of Virginia, where he teaches courses in the university’s College of Law. He’s the author of "Free Speech in the College Community."
—Philippa Strum, senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Broeklundian Professor Emerita at the City University of New York. She’s the author of "When the Nazis Came to Skokie: Freedom for the Speech We Hate."
The event takes place this afternoon at 4 p.m. at the University of Wyoming Conference Center at the Hilton Garden Inn, and is free to members of the general public.
UW officials have made sure to point out that while the panel discussion was organized in response to recent controversial speaking events (a visit by former Vice President Dick Cheney also stirred some controversy last year), the forum does not intend to address any incidents specific to UW. The discussion will feature a question-and-answer period, though, and I imagine UW can only be so successful at dodging that elephant. And if at any point the panelists need a good "how not to do it" example, the University of Wyoming provides fertile ground.
Regardless of the terms, though, I’m glad to see UW have the discussion, and hope it will be a teachable moment for the administration. With the new semester still fresh, there’s no better time.