Law Professor to Serve on Free Speech Board

The National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement will be launched by the University of California at its Washington, D.C., location.

By Lucia Geng, Contributor

Law professor Geoffrey Stone will serve on the advisory board of the newly established National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement.

The center will be launched by the University of California at its Washington, D.C., location, according to Janet Napolitano, the president of the UC school system.

In an interview with The Maroon, Stone said the center will bring thinkers together to discuss First Amendment issues and provide an “opportunity to study and advance goals of free speech and academic engagement.”  

Stone, who has been on the Law School faculty since 1973, is widely regarded as a leading expert on free speech and the First Amendment, and has authored the award-winning book Perilous Times, which examines how Americans’ civil liberties are affected in times of war.

He gave the 2016 Aims of Education address on the importance of free expression and chaired the Committee on Freedom of Expression, whose recommendations came to be known as the “Chicago Principles” and have been adopted by many universities across the country.

“Pretty much from its founding, Chicago has been a national leader on this issue because it held [a commitment to promoting free expression] central to its mission even in circumstances where other institutions have failed,” Stone said.

He pointed to how the University stood alone in its willingness to allow a student organization to invite a communist leader on campus as a speaker in the 1930s.

Stone also said that some threats to free speech today are “unique and distinctive” because the “primary driving force [for censorship] is coming from the students themselves.” He argued that this “poses a new kind of a challenge for instances that require education,” since students have never been the primary driving force for censorship before.

“One thing that…institutions need to do is…get a better understanding of what has caused this phenomenon. In order to address it, it helps to know why it’s happening.” Stone suggested that one possible explanation of this phenomenon is that some of today’s students are raised in a way that safeguards them from conflict.

He added that “social media has…[made] ugly speech…much more pervasive,” and highlighted the increased outspokenness of the “much greater number of students from diverse backgrounds” on college campuses today. 

Looking ahead, Stone believes his role at the center will be to “help articulate those values [of academic freedom and free expression] and to promote them.” He hopes to “be constructive in terms of advancing what is an important educational moment [and find] effective ways both to understand current phenomena and…help educate students.”

“I think there is a better and a less good way of thinking about these questions,” Stone said. “[T]he better way of thinking about them is to understand why a vibrant commitment to free speech is in the interest of all of us.”