Wichita State to host panel discussion on freedom of expression

  • Universities play an important role in preserving and promoting freedom of expression.
  • Wichita State alumnus Lee Pelton will moderate a panel discussion on issues such as free speech in higher education and ways universities can embrace free speech values.
  • Wichita State plans to host more events to promote the exchange of ideas.

Free expression is a fundamental value for an institution such as Wichita State University, Neal Allen, associate professor of political science, maintains.

“We owe all of our students, and all Kansas citizens that we serve, our best effort to include all points of view,” he said. “I believe that democratic government depends on having both involved citizens and trained professionals.”

The open exchange of ideas may not produce a tidy ending.

That exchange, however, is crucial to our nation’s discourse, no matter how difficult the conversation. Wichita State University recognizes the important role universities play and will present a virtual panel on freedom of expression from 3-4:15 p.m. Wednesday, March 31.

View the panel discussion here.

“During these difficult times, it is critical that public universities maintain their role as the ‘marketplace of ideas,’” said panelist Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel and director of the Center for Academic Freedom with Alliance Defending Freedom. “To maintain that role, universities must expose our country’s future leaders to a robust exchange of ideas and educate them on how to engage in productive conversations with those with whom they disagree. I commend Wichita State University for hosting a discussion on this difficult but important topic and am looking forward to a productive discussion.”

During these difficult times, it is critical that public universities maintain their role as the 'marketplace of ideas.'
Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel and director,
Center for Academic Freedom with Alliance Defending Freedom

Those discussions, throughout our nation’s history, are often the precursor to important change.

“Oppression flourishes where speech is suppressed,” said Christine Hughes, former vice president and general counsel of Emerson College. “Every major social movement in this country—including the original one, the American Revolution — was fomented in part by deeply unpopular and controversial speech.  The abolition of slavery, the labor movement, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and other social activism each took on the accepted legalities of their times:  that slavery was legal; that women were unworthy of the franchise; that worker organization was illegal; that separate facilities were equal facilities. Eventual change for the dispossessed was accomplished, in part, through free speech.”

The event will be moderated by Lee Pelton, a WSU alumnus who has been president of Emerson College in Boston the past 10 years. Langhofer, a 1996 graduate of Wichita State, Hughes, and Allen, chair of Wichita State’s department of political science, will join Pelton as panelists.

“Even in sophisticated communities such as academe there are misunderstandings about the scope and the limitations of free speech doctrine,” Hughes said. “It is not a limitless right to give voice, heedless of the consequences. In addition, the exponential proliferation of social media platforms present free speech challenges never envisioned by the Founders. I look forward to exploring the nuances of free speech and the particular impact of social media on ‘the marketplace of ideas’ with this distinguished panel.”

Topics include:

  • The responsibility of universities to provide a forum for differing points of view.
  • The role of academic freedom in relationship to free speech.
  • Higher education’s duty to teach its students the lessons of responsibility that accompany the privilege of free speech.
  • Examples of how universities and colleges live in an environment where free speech is valued and supported.

“To be sure, protecting robust freedom of speech will result in hotly contested debates on important issues involving the most fundamental human rights,” Langhofer said.

Other events on the importance of freedom of expression are in the planning stages, Interim President Rick Muma said.

“We hope to have a series of talks that will promote how everyone can benefit from the open exchange of ideas,” he said.

Wichita State recently adopted a Free Expression Resolution that states: “Wichita State University will not shy away from exploring uncomfortable topics or discussions on campus but will instead foster an environment where difficult discussions can take place to challenge the university community, to help them grow intellectually, and to allow everyone to fully and responsibly practice and promote freedom of expression and inquiry."

Read more stories like this