Weekly News Digest, No. 25

Crowd standing in a public square

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

In Case You Missed It

Earlier this semester, the Project on Civil Discourse hosted two events on political discourse, which were recorded, captioned, and just published to our YouTube channel. Make sure to subscribe!

In March, Tyler Lewis spoke about the importance of value-driven political communication and the role of conviction and authenticity in how political figures are perceived. Lewis is the Director of Coalition Communications and Research at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

In April, Louis Michael Seidman spoke about his work, “Can Free Speech Be Progressive?” Seidman is the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Constitutional Law at Georgetown Law. 

Campus Free Speech

Professor Neal Hutchens reports that while campus free speech laws are being enacted in a number of states, they may do more harm than good. Generally, these laws prohibit “speech zones,” or specific places on campuses where students can protest or speak, and require universities to remain neutral on controversial issues.

Robby Soave writes that free speech on campus isn’t dead yet, but it is struggling. Soave offers a short summary of his new book, Panic Attack: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump, as he argues that there is a free speech problem at colleges and universities across the United States. Soave notes that the majority of campuses and speakers engage in diverse and stimulating conversations, but that “many campuses possess a small number of extremely far-left students who view speech that discomforts them as a threat to their mental well-being.”

Intellectual Diversity

Shannon Watkins writes about a recent event with Robert George and Cornel West on the necessity of a “deep education,” which requires students to pursue opportunities that are challenging and unsettling. Why is this so important? “Because actively engaging with an ideological opponent refines one’s own understanding of an issue and can lead one closer to the central goal of all education: the pursuit of truth.”

American University student Marissa Klass wrote about a similar event with George and West last semester.

Thanks for reading!

Weekly News Digest, No. 24

Crowd standing in a public square

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

Student Discussions

Are you interested in the role of political, social, and racial identity in speech? Do you want to talk with your peers about campus speech, civility, or post-truth conversations?

The Project on Civil Discourse is holding twenty student discussions where a group of 8-10 students and two peer facilitators come together to talk about discourse from a variety of different angles. There are five more discussions scheduled for this year. For a list of discussions, click here. To register, click here.

Campus Speech

Last week, PEN America released a report titled “Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America.” Coming just days after President Trump’s executive order on campus speech, the report “debunks the Administration’s constricted account of free speech threats emanating only from the left” by analyzing more than 100 speech-related controversies. This research follows up on their initial 2016 report, “And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion, and Freedom of Speech at U.S. Universities.”

Writing for Inside Higher Ed, Jeremy Bauer-Wolf writes that “students on both sides of the political spectrum have engaged in unhelpful and, for conservatives, intentionally provocative behavior.” University administrators must thread the needle, both responding to legitimate grievances and reaffirming free speech.

Writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Katherine Mangan writes that if there is a campus free speech crisis, it is legislators that are making it worse. Colleges are “seeing more incidents of hateful expression and intimidation,” while the “Justice Department is raising politicized alarms over the state of free speech.”

Arguing and Discourse

Jesse Singal writes about erisology, or the study of unsuccessful disagreement. First introduced by John Nerst, erisology attempts to pinpoint the “divergence in people’s fundamental beliefs and assumptions” and understand why that divergence “makes them react to the world in different ways.” Singal writes specifically about decoupling, or the idea of removing “extraneous context from a given claim and debating that claim on its own.”

Trump’s Executive Order

Erin Corbett writes that President Trump’s executive order on campus free speech may be used to silence student activists. Corbett cites recent misdemeanor charges against University of Arizona students who were protesting campus visitors and who may now face jail time.

Peter Berkowitz writes that the order is an imperfect, but necessary, tool for a situation where colleges and universities have failed to act in protecting free speech and expression. While the order is “subject to abuse” and leaves “in disrepair a higher-education establishment” with systematic failures, the “perils of federal action are greatly outweighed by the catastrophe of inaction.”

Thanks for reading!

Weekly News Digest, No. 23

Crowd standing in a public square

Welcome to the twenty-third installment of the Project on Civil Discourse’s Weekly News Digest, hosted on our Real Talk blog. Last week, the regular digest was replaced with a special edition focused on President Trump’s executive order on campus free speech.

Last Monday, Kira Pyne wrote about her experiences studying abroad in Copenhagen and the importance of asking questions to understand, not to provoke or confront.

Student Discussions

Are you interested in the role of political, social, and racial identity in speech? Do you want to talk with your peers about campus speech, civility, or post-truth conversations?

The Project on Civil Discourse is holding twenty student discussions where a group of 8-10 students and two peer facilitators come together to talk about discourse from a variety of different angles. There are nine more discussions scheduled for this year. For a list of discussions, click here. To register, click here.

Family Discourse

Ashley Fetters writes in The Atlantic about how families can navigate tense, fraught political conversations. Fetters’ article features Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers, who have published a podcast and a book about this issue. Holland and Silvers recommend having conversations to understand, rather than convince, and they recognize that there are boundaries – some issues don’t have ‘both sides.’

Political Discourse

As the two-year anniversary of the deadly “Unite the Right Rally” approaches, the city of Charlottesville has been forced to redefine civility and public discourse. Former mayor Mike Signer enforced Robert’s Rules of Order, while community activist Nikuyah Walker and councilmember Wes Ballamy emphasized the difference between civility and politeness. Vice Mayor Heather Hill says that even the “very concept of civility has been polarizing here.”

Supportive Discourse

Brittany Packnett writes about her own experiences in social justice activism, arguing that “we can’t just show up for social justice issues when it impacts our own lives.” In her own words: “The cost of your silence is greater than the cost of your truth.”

Trump’s Executive Order

In the days and weeks since President Trump’s executive order on campus free speech, more analysis and commentary has been published. For an explanation of the order and the initial response, read through the special edition on the order.

Jonathan Zimmerman, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, writes that while President Trump should not be the arbiter of free speech, there is still a problem on college campuses: students, faculty, and staff don’t feel comfortable speaking their minds.

Tom Lindsay, director of the Center for Innovation in Education, writes that the order is a good first step in restoring the fundamental right to free speech on campus. Lindsay argues that free speech isn’t political because it’s the precursor to politics and debate.

Keith Whittington, professor at Princeton University and author of Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech, writes that the order is a crude tool that is unlikely to do much good and likely to do some harm. Whittington writes that it is unclear “how much this changes the status quo,” but that it does politicize “federal intervention in campus free speech issues.”

Thanks for reading!