dotEDU Episode 10: Talking Free Speech on Campus


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired on November 25, 2019​

Tensions on campus around free speech issues mean college and university leaders are often caught in the crosshairs. Hosts Lorelle Espinosa and Jon Fansmith speak with civil discourse and campus speech experts, Lara Schwartz​, professor at American University, and Michelle Deutchman, executive director of the University of California’s Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement, about the tensions, the research, and the policies that can have a huge impact on how students experience campus life and explore how leaders can make their own campuses inclusive.

Later, Lorelle and Jon look at further resources around campus inclusion and free speech and how the Department of Education may become more involved. ​​

Episode Notes

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show:

Conversation with Michelle Deutchman and Lara Schwartz

Post-interview chat on free speech and inclusion resources

Hosts and Guests
Michelle Deutchman - Executive Director, University of California Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement -
Michelle Deutchman
Executive Director, University of California Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement
Lara Schwartz - Professor, American University School of Public Affairs -
Lara Schwartz
Professor, American University School of Public Affairs

 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith [00:00:04] Hello and welcome to dotEDU, the higher education podcast from the American Council on Education. I'm your host, Jon Fansmith in ACE's government relations office and I'm joined by my regular co-host, Lorelle Espinosa.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:00:16] Hey, how's it going?

Jon Fansmith [00:00:17] Good. How are you doing?

Lorelle Espinosa [00:00:18] Good. I'm beating back a cold a little bit today.

Jon Fansmith [00:00:21] Can hear it a little bit.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:00:23] All the travel I've been doing, it's inevitable, I think.

Jon Fansmith [00:00:26] That's right. You're just in Portland, I believe.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:00:29] I was just in Portland, Oregon, for the Association for the Study of Higher Education Conference. So that was fun. For me, it's a time to reconnect with friends and colleagues, scholars that are working on campuses, you know, academics and is really rejuvenating for me to get back to my peeps.

Jon Fansmith [00:00:47] Yeah. It's a great conference. I used to attend when you would invite me to come and speak.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:00:52] I did invite you once. That's true.

Jon Fansmith [00:00:53] Twice. I think, right?

Lorelle Espinosa [00:00:54] Oh, twice? Yeah, you're right. Twice. Forgot about the second time.

Jon Fansmith [00:00:56] So it wasn't just once I bombed I bombed. I bombed apparently twice to stop getting invited. Not that I'm paying attention to things as you tweet away from there and all the interesting people you're talking to and the things you're learning. Yeah. Well, speaking of interesting people and things to learn about, we are going to be joined a little bit later by two I think really, really fascinating guests who are going to talk about a subject that, particularly here in Washington, has gotten a little more attention recently. And we'll talk about that later in the show. But the subject of free speech on college campuses. And we're going to be joined by Michelle Deutchman, who is the first director of the University of California's National Center on Free Speech and Civic Engagement, and in addition, we're going to be joined by Lara Schwartz, who is the director of the Project on Civil Discourse at American University and is also a fellow at the center. So I think that should make for a pretty engaging conversation on a subject that's very topical right now.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:01:52] Very important. Has been for a number of years. But it's not going away.

Jon Fansmith [00:01:56] No, definitely not going way away, if anything heating up.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:01:59] Yes. Absolutely.

Jon Fansmith [00:02:00] So we're going to come back after a short break and be joined by our guests. Welcome back. We are joined by our guests. I teased them a little bit before the break, but they're now here with us. And, you know, I kind of gave both of your titles and your current positions, but I think one of the things, before we actually delve into our topic, it would be great for our listeners to learn a little bit more about you both and sort of the work you do and the center and anything else you'd like to share with them.

Michelle Deutchman [00:02:36] Thanks so much for having us. It's great to be here. This is Michelle and I think I'll start kind of way back when I was a student at Berkeley, which I think is really when my interest in all this started. I came from a pretty sheltered L.A. life and I got to Berkeley and David Irving, the well-known Holocaust denier, was coming to campus. And I was part of this silent candlelight vigil of people who were protesting. Not protesting that he shouldn't come, but protesting what he was saying. And to the side of me were the anarchists who had a large log and they were trying to bash in the door of where David Irving was speaking. And so then the Berkeley riot police came. And that was my introduction to sort of student activism at Cal.

Jon Fansmith [00:03:19] So nice, gradual acclimation to the issue.

Michelle Deutchman [00:03:22] Yes, definitely a little shell-shocked. But it really kind of built from there. I became interested in sort of things that were happening on campus. And then I ended up doing a summer internship for the Anti-Defamation League here in D.C.. I'm going to admit it was more than 20 years ago and it sort of changed my life. And I came home and told my mom, if I ever become a lawyer, I want to do what this attorney at ADL does, which is basically sort of the intersection of policy and public interest work. And I was lucky enough many years later to be able to come back to ADL, where I spent 15 years almost before I came to the center. And I largely worked on hate crimes and bias instance and then the First Amendment was sort of my niche area, both religious freedom and speech issues. And then as things started to heat up on campuses, especially California campuses, I was spending more and more of my time just on speech issues, national trends, writing testimony, and I would say most importantly, devising trainings with our anti-bias educators to go onto campuses and talk to people, not just about the law, but about all of the different levels of issues that arise when we're talking about speech and what that means to be at a public university where hateful speech can be protected. And then the center was born. And I had this amazing opportunity to come in and lead it. And it was really born out of a lot of the things that were happening, not just on Berkeley campus. I mean, on UC campuses, but around the country. And I think President Napolitano really wanted to set aside time and energy to really look at and think about and study this issue. My vision is kind of a pragmatic one where we have this great fellows program with people like the incredible Lara who are really going to do work and create resources for people on campuses who I think are really struggling with how to deal with these kinds of issues.

Jon Fansmith [00:05:11] And the center's relatively recent, correct?

Michelle Deutchman [00:05:13] It is. The center was born really in late 2017 and I came on board in the middle of 2018. So we're in our infancy.

Jon Fansmith [00:05:23] And the resources you mentioned developing, these are not just for UC campuses, right? This is intended for all higher education.

Michelle Deutchman [00:05:28] This is supposed to be for all of higher education, which I think is why we're the national center. So we're both UC-focused, so we have our roots in UC campuses and UC scholars, but then we're hopefully going to have, you know, an impact on the national conversation.

Jon Fansmith [00:05:42] That's great. And Lara, how did you come to this field of expertise?

Lara Schwartz [00:05:46] Sure. Well, like Michelle, I'm a lawyer. I'm now a professor. In between becoming a lawyer and being a professor, the primary work that I did was in civil rights and particularly legislative advocacy and communications strategy. I'd say the two projects or initiatives that I worked on at the Human Rights Campaign, which is America's largest civil rights organization advocating for the rights of LGBT people and allies, were working toward the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Junior Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which is a federal hate crimes law and defending against the proposed federal marriage amendment, which would have banned legal recognition of same sex relationships throughout this country. In both of those pieces of work, I had to do a lot of groundwork to talk to people from a very wide variety of audiences from rooms in, you know, half of the Springfield's in this country it seems, to legislative bodies to congressional briefings to press around things. So with the hate crimes law, what was constantly coming out was this must violate the First Amendment. I think this must criminalize speech or thought and a mod of actually bad faith attack would be, "Ministers are going to be prosecuted for preaching the gospel about homosexuality." And it's a law that provides for prosecution of violent offenses that result in death or serious bodily injury. I had to talk a lot about how this isn't thought policing. You can be robustly defending our country against the problem of hate crimes without criminalizing feelings or thoughts. So I spent an enormous amount of time explaining the congruence of inclusion and protection of all communities and freedom of speech. With the federal marriage amendment I just was often just an ambassador for constitutionalism in places where, to be honest equality for LGBT people was not very popular. And so in 2004 and '06, we were able to defeat the federal marriage amendment, not because there was majority support for marriage. There was not in 2004, it was about 27 percent support for access to marriage rights, but many, many people--the late Senator John McCain, I would say, most prominently--had a sense of what role our constitution is supposed to play in this country and what the constitution isn't for. And so talking to people across partisan or ideological divides where the binding principle and the binding value is respect for our Constitution as a rights-shielding mechanism and not a rights-destroying mechanism was very powerful. And I took that interest into my teaching. So one of the reasons that I teach constitutional law to undergraduates, even though they're not studying for the bar, they don't have to take it like we lawyers do to go out and hang out a shingle or be hired by a firm, is it's a marvelous mechanism for giving people a framework to solve problems within a system potentially of shared values or ideals. And we have great conversations across ideology, utilizing constitutional principles.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:09:28] What is your impression of students' understanding when they get to your class of the Constitution?

Lara Schwartz [00:09:35] Well...So I'm in a special circumstance at American University School of Public Affairs, because most of my students are highly motivated toward sort of public affairs careers. They regularly...I think these are the students who, you know, when you see those adorable viral pictures of like a 7-year-old dressed as Ruth Bader Ginsburg [crosstalk]. But I think the thing of my favorite pieces of writing ever is an Onion article that the title of, which is, Aryan Man, Passionate Defender of What He Thinks the Constitution Means. I think all of us, regardless of how wonky we are, how political we are, have a little bit of that and certainly, certainly undergraduates. So I think they come in with feelings and then what we overlay is school, is education.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:10:32] Yeah, that's interesting.

Michelle Deutchman [00:10:33] Could I  just add in. Yesterday the center did a briefing on legislating campus speech. And afterwards I had the opportunity to talk to a young woman from University of Georgia who is an intern. And she came right up to me and she said, "But what are we going to do about hate speech, you know?" And I said, "Well, you know, it is protected." And she said, "Oh, it is?" And so I think that...and this doesn't just apply to students. But I think there is...and I know were going to get to it, but this idea of civic literacy that we don't have. And so I just...I wasn't surprised, but I'm always sort of taken aback by...You know, we had a good conversation, but you could just see as we were talking that the perspective changes when you understand the constitutional sort of parameters that we live within right now.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:11:21] Yeah. That's something that I found too, having worked on this issue a bit, including with the both of you, is the lack of the literacy even--I know we'll get to it--among students, faculty, staff members on campuses. But I wanted to ask you about a particular thorny issue, which is really this, what I call a false dichotomy, between free speech and inclusion. And I know you both have opinions on that, because we've talked about it before. I just wanted to hear your reaction to that paradigm. You know that, is it speech or inclusion? Is often what gets put on the table.

Michelle Deutchman [00:12:03] I have a very visceral reaction to it in a very negative way. I think it is a misguided and problematic. Way to frame the question. I mean, I think it certainly gets you an interesting headline to be able to say, oh, X percent of students, you know, prefer this or that. I think we need to be talking about how these two really imperative values complement each other rather than conflict with one another. I think the question needs to be, "how do we have both?" How do we have robust expression and discussion in this pursuit of truth, which is like sort of the backbone of, you know, kind of liberal education. But at the same time, being realistic about what's happening around the country in a really polarized climate and that you need to be talking about speech, not in a vacuum, but as it fits with equity and diversity and inclusion. And, you know, Lara and I were just talking this morning about some of the things we're seeing around the country right now, like at Syracuse, for instance. And it's just insufficient to say, well, some of that speech might be protected because of the First Amendment. I mean, that is not...You need to be doing more. And I'm glad to see that that university is taking a strong reaction. But I think we need to reframe the question. And I also think we really need to...You don't just wake up and say, "How do we use these two values together?" You have to talk about it. You have to teach it. You have to inculcate it. You have to have programing. You have to have education. And I think there's lots of people that are doing great work, but clearly, we need to do more work.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:13:31] Yeah. What do you think, Lara?

Lara Schwartz [00:13:34] So one of the best ways to get my blood pressure spiking and the best way is just to ask me when my office hours are--my kid does that--because it's right at the top of the syllabus. But the second-best way is to draw the conclusion, to misuse a piece of data that I want to mention that's often flung around about college campuses, the Knight survey that says something like 68% of students perceive that they or their conservative classmates need to not share their views. And I've heard people who...Really people in academic spaces, lawyers, professors, people who utilize good, solid methodology and problem solving with I think most everything else they do professionally because they're usually fancy people in fancy rooms, draw conclusions from this, that if it was one of my first year students' papers, she would be getting those margin comments, you know, citation? Logic? And here's why. We don't actually know what students mean when they say, you know, I might be afraid to share my opinion. To use very extremely fancy pedagogy-speak as a professor in this room, college is about getting good at stuff.

Jon Fansmith [00:15:07] I appreciate you put that at my level among the academics.

Lara Schwartz [00:15:10] So we're in the "getting good at stuff" business and our philosophy colleagues are a certain kind of thing compared to our business ones. But, at the end of the day, methods of communicating: reading, interpreting material, generating new material through the scientific method, through legal reasoning, all manner of ways. And one of the things that college students need to get good at is communicating in community. Each of us has had the experience at a new job, at home, in our marriage, in our parenting of saying, "Hang on, before I say this, am I really on great footing here? Do I know that in this space, in this moment, this is what I should be saying, this is what's going to work?" So if in a space dedicated to getting good at stuff, one of the things of which is being in a much more diverse and varied community, as most colleges are than most U.S. high schools, students are saying not that I'm self-censoring, but I'm self-editing or trying, jumping all the way to the conclusion that we are in a speech emergency, that what they're reporting is totalitarian and not that that's contrary to what college is all about as opposed to very much a part of what college is all about, there is not a basis for that. And I think there is a basis to ask students a lot more questions and be more careful ourselves in how we...whether and how we want to sort of deploy that one very narrow data point. And also what we want to learn about what students are struggling to communicate with each other. My program is actually about that fun part, helping people communicate with one another. And that's where I...And Michelle and I've talked about this, it's great to have mission statements. We can talk about those. It's great to have statements of principles. At the end of the day, where we're doing education. And this piece of things, communicating in a college community, both in terms of across difference in diversity and all of those things, that means, but in terms as well of expertise, that's actually the core of our function.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:17:40] Right. And I'd love it if you, either one of you, could shed light on what you're thinking in terms of the transition between K12 environments and higher education. Now, we've talked about that before and what students are bringing and what campuses, or some people on the campuses, expect of them and how that's unrealistic.

Michelle Deutchman [00:18:01] Well, I'll start and then, you know, Lara's written a book on this transition. But one of the things I think a lot about, especially as a parent to young children, is we're constantly talking about words having impact and being powerful and mattering and that they need to think intentionally and thoughtfully about the words that they're going to use. And then if you don't pair those values, I think with going back to the civic literacy, and then we drop off these young adults on large public school campuses where you can name it, Milo or Richard Spencer, whoever is coming. And then everybody is so surprised that these young adults are shocked by what they're hearing, because without some fundamental understanding, not just about the Constitution, but about how to engage when you hear things that are very upsetting to you and sort of fly in the face of really like a lifetime of beliefs, what would you expect them to do? And I think it sort of seems unfair to me that so much of this is laid at the feet of colleges. And I think we need to really go back and be thinking to ourselves, how do we start K-12 preparing students for all kinds of transitions about college, but especially in the kind of speech, diversity, thinking about how we're going to talk to people and respond to people. I think that we need to do a better job with the long game. And then, of course, once you start in college, people are like freshman orientation, like, that's great but that's like a tiny, tip off the iceberg, right? [crosstalk] Three days where maybe they're spending 10 minutes on speech on campus. And so then how do we integrate that and inculcate that throughout their entire experience, not just in the classroom, but also extracurriculars?

Lara Schwartz [00:19:46] So, yeah, as a legal framework, K-12 education has two cases that my students love to read, Tinker v. Des Moines. You get to wear an armband protesting the Vietnam War. It's not disrupting anyone. Students don't check their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate. And Morse v. Frederick, all undergrads' favorite case because it's the bong hits 4 Jesus case. They love it.

Jon Fansmith [00:20:17] Bong hits 4 Jesus.

Lara Schwartz [00:20:17] Bong hits 4 Jesus, which says that the administration can limit student speech. That's, you know, materially disruptive to the educational enterprise. And the rub is that school principals have very broad latitude to determine if it does. So in bong hits 4 Jesus, this guy has this big banner. What does that even mean at a at a school sponsored event watching the Olympic torch parade? And he says, look, I was just this was actually just even nonsense. Right. And the school says, "No, no, no, this could be promoting illegal drug behavior." And the court says, "Look, we're not principals." Right. And, you know, I'm a parent. I'll say every day that a middle school doesn't devolve to cannibalism is a triumph of management.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:21:08] Lord of the Flies.

Lara Schwartz [00:21:09] It is Lord of the Flies. So the court's recognizing, as they do with the military as well, we don't know how to do this. Give the schools this latitude. And schools have taken it actually really far. And one of the things that's been really interesting to me, talking to students, younger students, middle school students, high school students, is, and there's research to support this, actually: the poorer a school is and the more students of color at a school, the more likely the school's actually going to have a very authoritarian approach to all manner of expression. The students deploy it very far to the point of dress codes.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:21:46] All right. We're hearing a lot about that.

Jon Fansmith [00:21:49] You see these sort of pop up in the news all the time.

Lara Schwartz [00:21:51] And deploy the same reasoning as in the speech cases, which is, you know, "If you wear those leggings or if your bra strap shows, boys can't do math." This is disruptive to education. I'm not saying this to actually trash the education system. I feel like we need to be more supportive of the people, educating K-12, other environments. But you take students who've been told, you know, you have to be in this incredibly speech-limited, sort of expression-limited environment, actually in service of the educational purpose that so many of the things that are fine outside of a school like wearing leggings or, you know, or a tank top or having shorts that are not longer than the ends of your fingertips are not OK. They hurt school. They hurt the school enterprise sometimes. You get to college. Nobody says this explicitly. Now, the standard is a standard that applies to the public square, applies to what you can do in Lafayette Park across from the White House. And it's a standard that's actually much more rough and tumble, Wild West than the standard at your parents' workplace where you actually can't go around spewing epithets and things, right. Our workplaces are fairly--

Lorelle Espinosa [00:23:06] Thick. Extremes.

Lara Schwartz [00:23:11] And, you know, as Michelle said, I coauthored a book about the transition to college. It's not primarily about the speech and communication component. We're doing one of those actually right now in connection with the fellowship at UC. But I think expecting students to have toed the line for that long in that environment, getting to school and saying, okay, now you've complained about the white supremacist student in your midst. And, you know, last spring your bra strap was a threat to the educational environment. Now, his membership and identity of [unclear], which is an actual story from a campus I visited, you know, isn't something that we're gonna handle. That's a lot. And I think the people in this room understand that that's the legal framework. But expecting students to believe that that's the expected thing in their education is unrealistic. And I also think it's really unrealistic to expect it to be enough for them, that answer, "No, I can't do anything."

Jon Fansmith [00:24:10] Well, I think it's interesting, too, because Michelle brought this point about we might do 10 minutes on free speech at orientation. And you're talking about students who are coming out of a system that has been so highly regulated and expecting them to understand that pendulum swing entirely in the other direction. But there is something about that, about, we are institutions, right. We are seeing this year after year with our students. What are things institutions, in either of your opinions, could be doing better? I mean, beyond sort of making this kind of an ongoing focus of their particular practices or things that an institution can proactively do to address some of these issues and help improve communication, also maybe prevent the rise of conflict from some of these areas?

Michelle Deutchman [00:24:57] I mean, in my mind, I'm love some mandatory seminars, right, about dialog and deliberation. But, you know, when you start talking about mandatory classes, I've noticed people start shaking and get concerned. But I mean, I think, you know, you have to sort of start with a foundation. And I think, again, this sounds so policy wonky, but I think policies are a good place to start. And I, again, I think it sounds very basic. But the truth is, when you look back on, for instance, the unite the right rally and again, you know, easy to look back and hindsight is 20/20. But, you know, they didn't have a permitting process in place. They didn't have a certain time, place, and manner restrictions that are allowed. Again, they weren't going to stop the folks from protesting on campus, but they might have had some advance notice that they were coming so that they could prepare. They might have been able to sort of cabinet which parts of campus they were allowed to march on. And, you know, I think one of the ironies is that, you know, one of the most impactful pieces of the march was the use of the tiki torch. And you find out later that there actually was a policy in place about fire on campus. So they actually probably could have asked the marchers to put out the flames. But again, you have to have the policies. People have to know them. I think you have to have consensus building when you're making the policies. And I think we're seeing that happening and playing out at University of Wisconsin, where the Board of Regents is really pushing through a policy that so many people are unhappy with. So I think, how do you get--

Jon Fansmith [00:26:31] Sorry. Just maybe explain for people might not be familiar with the policy.

Michelle Deutchman [00:26:34] Oh, sure. I mean, it stems out of, again, this idea that I think Lara and I both don't agree with it, that there's an emergency or crisis on campus in terms of speech and so therefore, we need state legislators and other folks to regulate what's happening. And one of the things that Wisconsin has been talking about is mandatory punishments. So, for instance, if you disrupt more than two times, you might be suspended or expelled. And yet the definition of disruption is very vague and ambiguous. And so I would make the argument that there's concern if I were a student on campus and I thought I might get suspended for disrupting, maybe I wouldn't protest. So I think--.

Jon Fansmith [00:27:16] So, in some ways, by trying to protect speech, you're actually suppressing speech.

Michelle Deutchman [00:27:19] That certainly is like my perspective on the legislation. But going back to policies, I think you have to build consensus. I think you have to disseminate so people understand. And then I think you have to implement consistently because your policy doesn't mean anything if Lara does something and then Jon does it, but then Lorelle does it and I only punish Lorelle. The policy doesn't matter because the issue is going to be, "Why did you pick Lorelle and not Jon or Lara?" So I think you need to start kind of there. And then I think from there, I think one of the answers is education, education, education. I mean, I think the best way is to really get people together in a room, diverse people and diverse stakeholders, make law enforcement sit with administrators and sit with students and sit with communications folks and really talk about not just the legal framework, but what do we do when somebody videos something really awful happening on campus and it goes viral 'cause then it's more than just a speech issue. It's an issue about the community and the values.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:28:20] But I think that's a really good point, because the speech issue runs right into the inclusion issue, which is why we had the conversation earlier. Just to reiterate, we've done a lot of work on this ACE for a few years, but we were really doing quite a bit a couple years ago on speech and inclusion. And I'm so glad you raised the all hands on deck approach because for the institutions that we saw do a good job of this they prepared a lot before a crisis happened and they did so at a table with multiple types of different administrators from different parts of the campus setting policy, doing what they called tabletop exercises, sort of running through scenarios. What if this happened? What if this happened? But even if you get caught in that job and it does happen and you weren't as prepared, you still need those same people around the table to solve the problem moving forward. Just so important. It's really an all hands issues. That was a big takeaway for me as we were doing that work.

Jon Fansmith [00:29:19] And are there other institutions, and I know you've worked with a number of campuses, studied a number of campuses, are there any institutions that people listening to this could look at as maybe really great examples of proactive planning, and the all-hands-on-deck policies?

Michelle Deutchman​ [00:29:35] I mean, I feel like I mean, it seems obvious, but I really do think the UC system has done a lot of work. You know, each campus is a little bit different, but I would say most of the campuses I've worked with, they have their own free speech working group and are really working together. I'm lucky enough to be part of the UC Irvine Free Speech Working Group that has rewritten their major events policy, their disruption guidance, sort of free speech, expression, kind of ideology, what underpins it. UCLA has written some new policies. I think campuses are really working hard to think intentionally and carefully and thoughtfully about making sure that students and others can protest and use their voice while at the same time making sure that it's safe, which I think sadly is one of the things that we need to think about. And I think it brings up a lot of issues. You know, law enforcement presence for some people on campus is a very comforting thing. For a lot of other communities, it's not. And you have to think about the layers of that.

Lara Schwartz [00:30:38] So the First Amendment and, for that matter, campus policies, whether it's the Chicago principals or an individual university's statement of protest and dissent are...there a limitation on authority, on government or institutional authority to punish. But they are not a blueprint for how to live.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:31:02] That's a good point.

Michelle Deutchman [00:31:03] Our First Amendment hasn't yielded an information utopia out in the world here. Otherwise, you wouldn't have measles deaths in 2019. And these policies, they can be important. They matter. They're the backbone, if you like. And I'm kind of a constitutionalist, you know. But they're not all. And the education component, I do hear a lot about educating students about, "OK, well, what does the First Amendment mean?" But it's often very much in the sort of, "Well, here's the bad news. Here's why we didn't punish the hateful person. Here's why this person who disagrees with your humanity or thinks members of your religion are terrorists is on our campus." And so there's the bad news. And so it's a thing. It matters. It's not enough. And ultimately, it's not going to sort of spin the enterprise away from these crises. And I think that what does and what we focus on at the project on civil discourse at American, the focus is on looking at students as the architects of their voices, their communication, their listening as fundamental to their educational enterprise and who they are and saying, "Let's look at what the purpose of speaking and listening in a campus community and beyond is and ask yourselves fundamental questions about what kinds of material you want to engage with. What kinds of questions you want to ask. What kinds of speakers you want to hear." So there's two foundational questions that I recommend campuses get all of their students actually, and faculty and staff and alumni and mascot characters, everyone in--.

Jon Fansmith [00:32:47] Do the mascots generally have strong opinions in this area?

Lara Schwartz [00:32:49] I mean, they seem enthusiastic.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:32:51] We should poll them.

Lara Schwartz [00:32:53] We should.

Jon Fansmith [00:32:53] They're not allowed to speak though, right? I mean, that's not...

Michelle Deutchman [00:32:55] Well, but you don't have to use your voice to exercise your--.

Jon Fansmith [00:32:57] Freedom of expression, right. That's right. Fair point. I retract my comment.

Lara Schwartz [00:33:00] Here comes a great exam question right now. So the two foundational questions are, "What do I want for myself?" And that's a question that's really important to ask at the beginning of a college education. What do I want from this experience that, for many students, has become a very consumer transaction. I think we own that. And then what do I want from myself? What kind of community member do I want to be? What classmate do I want to be? If I'm studying business, is it to go back and open a business in my community? Is it to lead some corporation to innovate, broadly? What is it I'm hoping to achieve? And starting...when you go back to those principles as the foundation for how students think about the way that they communicate, it's really hard to get to hate speech from there. And it's really hard to get to a clash between inclusion and freedom from there, because people working with purpose together. And then the third thing is, "How does what I want for and from myself operate in this place that I'm studying with a bunch of other people, too?" So we have a little pamphlet called Building My Voice that's on the Project on Civil Discourse web site, that's a guided thinking experience that I recommend for the beginning of, for instance, at orientation or professors can assign it as an initial reading, it's a downloadable PDF, where students ask themselves, you know, how does the way that I'm going to listen and learn, engage and communicate, relate to my values, relate to what I want for myself. I even ask them to imagine the person that they would most want to be proud of them and put that person's eyes and perspective on their decisions around campus speech.

Lara Schwartz [00:34:56] One example I thought was really great that showed sort of the engagement and sort of mentorship between faculty and students was a while back at UCLA, a student group, I think it was the college Republicans wanted to bring Milo to campus. And the faculty advisor actually wrote an open letter in the Daily Bruin saying, "You have every right to bring the speaker. But what is the purpose? What is the value in the educational context? And give some thought to that." And they ended up deciding to bring a different speaker. And I think that that sort of engaging with each other and thinking through things, I wish we could see sort of more of that.

Jon Fansmith [00:35:33] I love that example. And I think it's interesting, too, because we're talking about Richard Spencer and Milo and you know, there was a lot of attention to both of those individuals and they were speaking on college campuses back around the 2016 election. And we talked a lot about what campuses do with their students and with their staff internally. But part of the problem is a lot of times these are outside groups, outside individuals who are particularly looking to come to campuses, if for no other reason than the attention and publicity they receive. In some ways they're hoping to be disruptive, to try and have their speech suppressed in some way so they can draw an example out that fits a narrative they have. Obviously, institutions then have a very difficult line to walk in terms of how they address that. We're heading into another presidential election. You might have heard. Oddly enough, partisanship hasn't gone down in the last few years. So I think from the ACE perspective, we sometimes...we might see a resurgence of similar activities. Just kind of try and get either of your thoughts on what this looks like going ahead and maybe our institutions may be better prepared to deal with these sorts of disruptions that are being in some ways foisted upon them.

Lara Schwartz [00:36:47] So I'm really glad you brought that up. And I think that's one more reason that rules that focus on disruption of speakers are going to have, you know, potentially unintended and very unequal consequences because it's often groups with outside funding, significant funding and power, frankly, that are deploying the use of a speaker with really almost no educational purpose or value to quote "own the Libs." So this is groups with power who are actually not even campus constituents who are the likely bringer of the speaker. And the protester more likely is a campus constituent, not always, but often and quite possibly marginalized, less powerful. So you're deploying a speech rule that really could exacerbate inequality on campus. But I think that that's what I'd really like to see campuses do, is reclaim the conversation about what campus speech means. If you look at your college experience, overwhelmingly, the learning, growing, challenging, the maturity, growth, ideological shaping came from engagements with your peers. And then secondarily, your professors. This ain't my first rodeo. I know they're looking at each other. And campus speakers, actually, and I bring speakers to campus for my program, I do...Campus speakers play a very, very small role in the educational mission of universities and in the educational experience of the students. But they're this tail wagging dog of the actual enterprise of education, which is the speech that happens in classrooms and in dorm lounges and in clubs and in school newspapers. So I think the thing to say to schools is, when you sit down, we understand that the crisis, a very manufactured one mode is asking you to talk about and treat the campus speaker thing as the most emergent thing, but to articulate a vision for communication, for classroom communication, for inclusive pedagogy, for student communication skill building that focuses first primarily on sort of the learning objectives of the campus and the meat of what students are doing as communicators and listeners and be very forthright about that, because actually the narrative about this needs to change. Everybody involved on a campus knows that we have more robust conversations and difficult ones on college campuses than just about anywhere else outside of, I guess, you know, counseling sessions. So do that and focus on that and give students as well the tools for that. And as well, show professors and instructors and staff, give them the civic literacy, but also help them to have the tools to understand that actually the First Amendment issues that apply to whether Milo can speak, they don't apply to whether they have to let their students brutalize one another in a classroom. So really give professors the tools to facilitate good, productive dialogue in classrooms. And we need it. We need those tools and that support.

Jon Fansmith [00:40:13] And in some ways, building that culture on a campus then minimizes the impact even when you might be targeted by a speaker like this or something like that.

Lara Schwartz [00:40:21] I think a campus where there's trust and a campus where people communicate with one another effectively is going to come through a challenging sort of, I think, assault, as it were, by an outsider. I think if you imagine the place where you're the most comfortable, the place where you feel the most supported and safe and welcome, it could be your gym, it could be your place of worship, wherever it might be. And you imagine Milo walking into that space. It probably wouldn't bother you very much. Or picture the speaker that you would least want. Richard Spencer probably wouldn't bother you that much, because in that space, presuming the person is not armed or something, they would have sort of no power over what that space was all about. If they came your Thanksgiving table everyone be like, "What?" 

Jon Fansmith [00:41:11] I'd worry about who was sending out invites to Thanksgiving.

Lara Schwartz [00:41:14] Yeah, Uncle Jed. To the extent that Milo's presence or Richard Spencer's presence in a community can really rile up and fire up students, I think that's telling us more about whether the students feel like we have their back in the first place.

Jon Fansmith [00:41:34] Yeah, it's a really good point.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:41:35] That's something that in the work we've done with scholars on the University of Missouri and their racial crisis and their recovery from that crisis, a big lesson learned is that if you have a particular connection between students and administration, if that channel is open and administrators are hearing students and the people in between the administrators and the students are negotiating that channel and really providing open dialog, that's one piece. But also climate, campus climate. Campus racial climate, in that case. That's something that wasn't happening at Missouri during the crisis, that open channel. But it's something that they're really attempting to solve for now.

Michelle Deutchman [00:42:19] I just want to add, you know, it's groups like ACE and others I think between the 2016 election and now, there have been a tremendous number of resources on all of these types of issues, not just crisis management, but about how to connect administrators and students, how students connect to each other. And I feel like we need to create a database of all of the resources. But I think there are a lot of things there for those individuals or administrators or staff who, you know, aren't going to get that one-on-one training and to look to organizations like yours. And I hope, you know, as the center grows to be able to look to places like the center for some guidance, because I think these are really challenging and complex issues. And we're dealing with, you know, major social issues. I mean, we didn't even get to talk about the impact of social media. I mean, that might be a topic for another time. But I think there's a lot out there.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:43:14] And there's a lot more resources on that one, on social media. How to manage that? We have one coming out, actually. Yeah, I've seen more and more groups address that one because that really is the third rail issue.

Jon Fansmith [00:43:27] Well, Lara and Michelle, I want to thank you both for your time today. And, you know, not just on social media, I have a feeling in the next year or so we might have reason to call you guys back for another edition of this podcast. But I just personally thank you so much for coming in. Obviously left us and our listeners with a lot to think about. And I should mention also that on our web site, we'll have links to the center and to other resources that we've mentioned on the show as well. So for people who are listening who want to learn more there'll be opportunities for you to do that.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:44:01] Great. Thanks so much.

Michelle Deutchman [00:44:02] Listen, thanks for having us.

Lara Schwartz [00:44:04] Thank you.

Jon Fansmith [00:44:04] And we're gonna take a brief break. And when we come back, Lorelle and I are gonna talk a little bit more about this issue and a few other things that are happening here in DC.

Jon Fansmith [00:44:14] Welcome back, everyone. I think that was a very, very engaging conversation. Obviously an issue a lot of campuses are thinking about. You know, Michelle sort of teed up for us a little bit, I think conveniently, some of the work ACE has been doing in this area and I know you've been doing a lot of that work and working with others in that area. Are there any things you'd want to mention?

Lorelle Espinosa [00:44:36] Yeah, I would actually. So, yeah, we've been working on this topic in earnest for several years and we had a grant from the Knight Foundation, speaking of. And full disclosure, we actually were a sponsor of that very survey that she said had that question that is very problematic, and a lot of people find that question problematic. They really like it at Knight, I'll just say so. But, you know, it's a great resource. For anyone that hasn't seen that data out of the Knight Foundation, they do poll students with Gallup pretty regularly, both in K12 and higher ed on issues of speech. And they're good about bringing the inclusion aspect in. So speech and inclusion. And so with them, we produced a couple of issue briefs. We have a great brief on controversial speakers and how to manage that. We have a great blog series on called Freedom of Speech, Diversity and Inclusion. So it's another one to check out. And yeah, our partners have been fantastic. So, I mean, those two that we just spoke with, Michelle and Lara, have been great collaborators. The free speech project at Georgetown is one that people should look at. Penn America is another one. So that's a group that I think more recently has done work on this topic on campuses. And they have a new guide out just recently in the last few weeks called the Campus Free Speech Guide. And it's an online guide. It's very nav-. Now, what is that word?

Jon Fansmith [00:46:01] Navigable?

Lorelle Espinosa [00:46:01] Thank you. It goes into everything from academic freedom to diversity and inclusion, invited speakers, discrimination and harassment. It has case studies which are really useful.

Jon Fansmith [00:46:13] Really useful.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:46:13] When you can do that. So I would recommend everyone take a look at that. And then I also know that we have a little flyer here that Michelle left behind. They have a conference here in D.C., the UC Center Speech Matters 2020: Participation and Protest on Campus. And that's on February 27th. Coming up in a couple months. So, yeah, lots going on this topic. It's not going anywhere fast. And it's, you know, more problematic than ever. It's very hard to navigate as an administrator and practitioner.

Jon Fansmith [00:46:46] And just a reminder for schools who are thinking about this, and you probably should be, we'll have links to all those things on the podcast web site. So look for those materials both from ACE, from our partners and other organizations.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:46:59] Oh, and one more.

Jon Fansmith [00:46:59] Sorry, absolutely.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:47:00] ACE Engage. We have a micro course on there. And more of these materials. Can't not mention that, because that was actually the product, like the culminating product of our work with the Knight Foundation.

Jon Fansmith [00:47:11] And Ted mentioned ACE Engage just last week.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:47:14] And he did last time. He mentioned it.

Jon Fansmith [00:47:17] Exactly. One other thing that's recently happened, talking about things here in Washington, why this is probably going to be an issue campuses are paying attention to for the next year or so. As we record this, which would be last week for people listening if you first download it when it's released, the Department of Education announced that as part of the regulations they will be working on in the coming year, one of them will be regulating free speech on campus. And not much is known about that. This is basically the department saying, "We intend to work on this." There's no details, but it follows up on the president's executive order around free speech on campus, about which, again, not a lot of details about how that would be implemented or what it would look like. But the general thrust was if schools don't provide for free speech, then we'll take their research funding away. So obviously very high stakes for institutions. Also troubling because I think there's not a lot of clarity on how that could be operationalized or what that might mean for campuses.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:48:18] Who's making that judgment on that?

Jon Fansmith [00:48:21] And obviously, ACE will be tracking that very closely both in government relations side and the rest of the organization. And we'll keep our members and others posted on developments in that area. You can find our podcast on That's You can also subscribe on Apple podcast, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. And finally, and I strongly encourage people listening, if you have any thoughts, comments, questions, please send them to That's I want to have like a feature sometime or maybe we can have people send in a question that we answer on a podcast or something.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:49:06] That would be cool.

Jon Fansmith [00:49:07] I want to engage listeners a little bit. So we'd love to hear from you. And you know, it can be a serious policy question. It can be an academic question. It can be something ridiculous. I kind of prefer the ridiculous, but whatever you want to do, we would love to hear from you.

Lorelle Espinosa [00:49:21] We would.

Jon Fansmith [00:49:22] So thanks, everyone for listening. And I hope you enjoyed the episode.

About the Podcast

​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page​​​​​​​​.

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