The Freedom of Expression and Civil Discourse Series at UWM opened Sept. 27 with a panel discussion that was itself a model of civil discourse.
A panel of seven discussants, led by moderator Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, found it easy to agree with one another about the need to expose ourselves to a wide array of ideas, especially at a university.
Page, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, asked the panelists to respond to a recent Brookings Institution study that found 51 percent of college students found it acceptable to disrupt a speaker whose speech they found offensive and hurtful – 20% said it was acceptable to use force to silence a speaker.
Rick Esenberg, president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, responded that “college is the perfect place to have your suppositions challenged.” But, he said, “Free speech is not an excuse for incivility.”
Blain Neufeld, UWM associate professor of philosophy, suggested that, while student groups have an undeniable right to invite controversial speakers, they need to exercise that right responsibly.
“We need to situate the university as an association with a particular mission – it’s not Facebook, it’s not Twitter, it’s not a free-for-all for people to shout whatever they want,” Neufeld said. “A university is an association that’s committed to the structured creation and dissemination of knowledge.
“Student groups should invite people who are supportive of that mission.”
Also participating in the discussion were Daniel Kafka, political science and Italian major; Michele Bria, chief executive officer of Journey House; Christopher Ott, executive director of ACLU of Wisconsin; Bridget Kies, Ph.D. student in media, cinema and digital studies; and Samuel Rogers, political science and global studies major.
You can learn more about the series and watch of video of the panel discussion at the Freedom of Expression website.