Free Speech and Civil Discourse: Our Rights, Our Responsibilities
“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech.” - Benjamin Franklin
The issue of free speech and what it means is again a topic of much discussion on college campuses nationwide, including here at the University at Albany, following several events during the spring 2023 semester.
From incendiary rhetoric around identity and political beliefs to the rise of misinformation and the limits imposed on academic freedom in statehouses across the country, free speech's definition and impact is fiercely debated.
We will discuss how free speech on campus, as promoted by PEN America, “underpins our embrace of diversity in all its facets by airing voices from all backgrounds, identities, and perspectives and upholding robust protections for academic freedom.”
As a prelude to Constitution Day, faculty, students, guests and members of the UAlbany community will join with Albany Law School to consider the intersection of free speech, advocacy, civil discourse and knowledge.
We will discuss the history and legal limits of free speech, the place for debate and civil discourse, the role of misinformation and social media, banned books and academic freedom.
Note: All events are in the Campus Center Ballroom, unless otherwise noted.
8:15 a.m. — Welcome Breakfast
Breakfast is open to all committee members, participants, student leaders and panelists.
Note: This event will be held in the Campus Center Assembly Hall.
9 to 10:20 a.m. — The First Amendment and Law School Campus Speech: A Primer and a Perspective
This session is chaired by Patrick Woods, Deputy Director of the Government Law Center and Adjunct Professor, Albany Law School.
10:30 to 11:50 a.m. — A Talk with Nadine Strossen, author of HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship
This talk is presented in partnership with the New York State Writers Institute.
This event is moderated by Dr. Deb Privott, Adjunct Professor and part-time Lecturer in the School of Criminal Justice at Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy.
Nadine Strossen, the John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law Emerita at New York Law School and past President of the American Civil Liberties Union (1991-2008), is a Senior Fellow with FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights and Education) and a leading expert and frequent speaker/media commentator on constitutional law and civil liberties, who has testified before Congress on multiple occasions.
She is the author of HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship (2018) and Free Speech: What Everyone Needs to Know (forthcoming in Fall 2023). She is also the Host and Project Consultant for Free To Speak, a three-hour documentary film series on free speech scheduled for release on public television in Fall 2023.
Noon to 1:20 p.m. — Faculty Lunch Workshop on Engaging Students in Discussions of Controversial Issues
This workshop is chaired by Dr. Brett Levy. Registration is now closed.
Note: This event will be held in the Multipurpose Room in Campus Center West.
In the current political and social climate, University instructors might find introducing and leading discussions about “hot button” topics challenging, but we can’t always avoid them, especially in certain courses. These topics can sometimes surface strong reactions from students and lead classes in unexpected directions.
In this highly interactive workshop designed for faculty and instructional staff, we will explore research-based strategies for navigating difficult or “hot” topics and help ensure that class discussions do not get derailed.
Participants will leave with concrete strategies (and plans to use them!) that will enable them to facilitate productive conversations about controversial topics. Lunch will be provided to all workshop participants.
Noon to 1:20 p.m. — Banned Books Read-out
The Read-out is chaired by Amanda Lowe.
Note: This event will be held in the University Library's Minerva Room (LI-003) , which is located on the basement level.
Join us for an enlightening and thought-provoking event, where we celebrate the freedom to read and the power of the written word.
In a time when ideas can challenge the status quo and inspire change, certain books have faced the unfortunate fate of being banned, challenged, or censored. This event aims to shed light on the importance of intellectual freedom and the impact of literature that has been deemed too controversial, provocative, or challenging by some.
During the Read-out, individuals will gather to share excerpts from banned or challenged books that have made a lasting impact. We encourage participants to select passages that resonate with them personally or highlight themes of censorship, individuality, and the pursuit of knowledge.
The event will feature a diverse range of readings, showcasing both classic and contemporary works that have faced censorship in various contexts. Each reading will serve as a reminder of the power of literature to challenge societal norms, ignite conversations and provoke critical thinking.
In addition to the readings, the event will provide an opportunity for attendees to engage in open discussions about the importance of intellectual freedom, the historical context of banned books and the ongoing struggle against censorship.
By fostering dialogue and raising awareness, we hope to inspire individuals to stand up for their right to read and encourage a society that values diverse perspectives and the free exchange of ideas.
1:30 to 2:50 p.m. — Trans Existence as an Act of Free Speech
This event is chaired by Zakhar Berkovich.
Facilitator: Outreach and Advocacy Coordinator Meagon Nolasco. Pronouns: She/Hers
In this conversation, representatives from the Pride Center will quickly review sex assigned at birth versus gender identity, identify the protections that exist for expression of oneself within and beyond the First Amendment, and lead a follow-up discussion around the difference between freedom to express opinions and targeting a protected class.
3 to 4:20 p.m. — A Complex Relationship: Free Speech, Academic Freedom, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)
This moderated discussion will be chaired by UAlbany's Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Samuel Caldwell, and co-moderated by Carter Lepin, University at Albany senior, with dual majors in Political Science and Latin American, Caribbean, U.S. Latino Studies (honors).
Panelists include Ciji Dodds, Associate Professor at Albany Law School and Ashley M. Fox, Associate Professor & Undergraduate Director, Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy.
This event will include panelist questions around the intersections of free speech, academic freedom, DEI, and protected speech.
By sharing from their areas of research focus and scholarship, panelists are asked to contribute to the following aims of this session, which are to:
Provide the audience a macro perspective of some of the issues that may make it difficult for people to engage in civil discourse around issues they may disagree with
Define and discuss civil discourse, as a means of creating space for understanding, even if parties may disagree about issues
Identify why increased polarization in the political/policy space at the national level is being seen in at the state and local levels
Explain why differing positions on policy issues appear to be increasingly and mistakenly misread as opposing positions, with an accompanying lack of civility in discourse with people whom we may disagree with
7:30 to 9 p.m. — A Conversation with UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez and PEN America President Suzanne Nossel
This conversation is hosted by the New York State Writers Institute.
PEN America President Suzanne Nossel is the author of Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All.
1 to 4 p.m. — Introduction to Facilitating Dialogue with Peers: A Constructive Dialogue Institute workshop
Student leaders will be invited to attend this workshop.
Note: This event will be held in the Campus Center Assembly Hall.
This four-hour training is for student leaders looking to make dialogue a key component of their co-curricular or Residential Life spaces.
Student leaders who complete this course will review the PSI approach, a model created by Constructive Dialogue Institute (CDI), that gives leaders the tools to prepare their communities for dialogue, support them during dialogue and intervene if a conversation needs de-escalation.
Objectives for this workshop include:
Get an introduction to facilitating and creating cultures of trust
Learn how to support peers' use of dialogue
Gain strategies for intervening in moments of conflict
More Ways to Participate
Now, U.S. Constitution Day — a federal observance that recognizes the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and those who have become U.S. citizens — is observed on September 17.
At UAlbany, we celebrate the anniversary of this historical event with an essay contest.
Students can choose one of three essay prompts:
Should free speech have legal limits, as opposed to only social limits? Why or why not? In your essay, be sure to draw on specific contemporary or historical examples and explain your understanding of free speech, and if you endorse limits, explain what the limits should be.
While freedom of speech is an important right, words can create individual and social harm. In a society like that of the United States where freedom of speech is highly prized, how can individuals and/or institutions encourage more civil discourse around controversial issues?
Freedom of speech without legal limits allows for speech that will harm some individuals and communities. What do you think is the best way to deal with harmful speech (for example, ignoring and encouraging others to ignore harmful speech, supporting more speech to counter harmful speech, organizing collective responses to limit the reach of harmful speech, defining and enforcing stricter legal limits on harmful speech)? In your essay, be sure to draw on evidence to support your conclusions.
Essay Submission Instructions
The essay should be between 250 to 500 words and include proper citations.
Essay submissions will be accepted from September 14 to October 16, 2023.
Email your essay to the Center for Leadership and Service at [email protected] with the subject line, "Constitution Day Essay Submission – Your Name."
Essay prize information is forthcoming.
We brought together book lovers, advocates of free expression and defenders of intellectual freedom for our Virtual Read-Out for Banned Books! In celebration of the written word and the power of ideas, we've assembled a collection of captivating and thought-provoking videos.
Our readers recited passages from a classic novel that has faced censorship and shared insights on the importance of open dialogue or simply championing the right to read.
We have come together - virtually - to spotlight the books that have challenged norms, sparked conversations, and expanded minds, in honor of the Free Speech symposium and Banned Books Week.