Weekly News Digest, No. 14

Welcome to the fourteenth installment of the Project on Civil Discourse’s Weekly News Digest, hosted on our Real Talk blog.

Speech on Campus

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, released their Spotlight on Speech Codes 2019 report, which examines the state of free speech on college campuses across the country. Using an internal rating system, FIRE reported a decrease in schools with a red-light rating and an increase in schools with a green-light rating as more schools adopt policies modeled around the University of Chicago’s report on freedom of expression.

Recently, Dr. Sigal Ben-Porath, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, argued in Inside Higher Ed against endorsing the Chicago principles. Although the principles represent an important, necessary commitment to free speech and inquiry, the “legalistic and formal framework” falls short when it encounters unique situations and diverse concerns. Dr. Ben-Porath writes that an endorsement “comes at the expense of the reasonable demands from people on campuses who argue that free speech that protects the expression of biased views creates an unequal burden that they are made to carry — especially as free speech today is too often used as a political tool by the right.”

Creative Activism and Protest

In November, Ian Madrigal spoke at American University about activism, discourse, and identity. Madrigal – an attorney and consumer advocate better known for their activism as The Monopoly Man – appeared in the news recently after an appearance at the House Judiciary Committee hearing for Google CEO Sundar Pichai. The Washingon Post Magazine profiled Madrigal, writing that the costume “is really an elaborate act of protest: a combination of entertainment and trolling that Madrigal calls ‘cause-play.’”

Discourse in our Communities

The Michigan Public Policy Survey examined the state of civil discourse on local policy issues in Fall 2018, looking at relationships among local officials, among residents, and between the two. MPPS found that most leaders believe discourse is constructive at the local level, with little change compared to a 2012 survey. However, discourse between residents is viewed as considerably less constructive, especially in Michigan’s most diverse communities.

Better Angels is trying to reverse that trend by facilitating discussions across the political divide. Rather than seeking a centrist compromise, David Graham writes that Better Angels “presupposes polarity” and focuses on fostering conversations between those on opposite sides. Graham examines the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, ultimately asking: “Even if Better Angels can succeed in getting a large swath of the population to speak civilly, who knows if they’ll be able to convert that into productive conversation on real policies?”

Thanks for reading!

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