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  • NYS Writers Institute

Free Speech and Civil Discourse: Our Rights, Our Responsibilities

“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech.”

-- Benjamin Franklin

The issue of free speech and what it means is again a topic of much discussion on college campuses nationwide, including at the University at Albany.

From incendiary rhetoric around identity and political beliefs to the rise of misinformation and the limits imposed on academic freedom in statehouses across the country, free speech's definition and impact are fiercely debated.

As a prelude to Constitution Day (September 17), we invite you to the University on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 14-15, to attend discussions on how free speech, as promoted by PEN America, “underpins our embrace of diversity in all its facets by airing voices from all backgrounds, identities, and perspectives and upholding robust protections for academic freedom.”

Events will take place 8:15 a.m. through 7 p.m. Thursday and 1-4 p.m. Friday on the history and legal limits of free speech, the place for debate and civil discourse, the role of misinformation and social media, banned books, and academic freedom.

All events are free and open to the public. Registration is required. Visit the Free Speech & Civil Discourse website for more information.

Two of the special events planned for next week:

10:30 a.m. Thursday, September 14

Campus Center Ballroom

Nadine Strossen

Nadine Strossen, the John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law Emerita at New York Law School and past President of the American Civil Liberties Union (1991-2008), is a Senior Fellow with FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights and Education) and a leading expert and frequent speaker/media commentator on constitutional law and civil liberties, who has testified before Congress on multiple occasions.

She is the author of HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship and Free Speech: What Everyone Needs to Know (forthcoming in Fall 2023). She is also the host and project consultant for Free To Speak, a three-hour documentary film series on free speech scheduled for release on public television later this year.

Moderated by Debernee Privott, the assistant dean for Public Engagement with the College of Arts & Sciences and director of UAlbany in the High School program. She also serves as a lecturer with the Rockefeller College’s School of Criminal Justice, where she earned her MA and PhD.

7:30 p.m. Thursday, September 14

Campus Center Ballroom

Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America

Join UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez and the NYS Writers Institute for an open conversation about the value of free speech on America’s college campuses, featuring the leadership of PEN America, the nation’s preeminent organization for promoting free expression. In addition to fighting censorship and defending writers and artists in the U.S. and throughout the world, PEN has issued the “PEN America Principles on Campus Free Speech,” a guide for students and educators.

Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, is the author of Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All, a manual for promoting the exchange of ideas in an age of censorship, book banning, cancel culture, social media storms, and campus controversies. Salman Rushdie said, “In our censorious age of easy outrage, when it’s harder than ever to defend our right to express contentious ideas, Suzanne Nossel remains convinced that bigotry and intolerance can be fought without giving way on the principle of free speech…. An authoritative, essential book.”


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