Free speech on campus: Challenges for minority rights and democratic values

April 5, 2018

Professor Sigal Ben-Porath
Professor of education, philosophy, and political science at the University of Pennsylvania.

At this year’s Worldviews Lecture, Professor Sigal Ben-Porath will address the increasingly heightened debate around free speech on campus. Her lecture will be followed by a panel discussion to further explore issues of free speech and the challenges posed to democratic values and minority rights in academia and beyond.

Over the last few years, many campuses became embroiled in free speech controversies. From cancelled speakers to physical fights, it seems that no postsecondary institution is safe from this new phase of the culture wars. In her recent book, Free Speech on Campus, Sigal Ben-Porath suggests that campuses need to reaffirm their commitment to free speech and inclusion, and clarify that both are tightly linked to their core missions. Her Worldviews talk will present three levels of the debate:

Substance: What can we talk about, and are there things we should not say? Must universities stay neutral regarding campus speakers?

Impact: Are certain views too hurtful to voice? Must they be silenced to avoid negative psychological or social consequences? Are universities considering the impacts of their decisions?

Public perception: Campus speech debates are often inaccurately portrayed and ineffectively addressed in the media. Open inquiry and the discussion of controversial ideas are an integral part of the academic mission, even if institutional practices could be improved. How can postsecondary institutions ensure the public’s understanding of their work reflects their academic mission?

Ben-Porath will offer a clear frame for understanding current free speech tensions and for responding to them in the classroom, on campus, and in the public debate.

To learn more about the 2018 Worldviews Lecture and register, visit the Worldviews website.