MTSU panel plans ‘Free Speech on Campus’ discussio...

MTSU panel plans ‘Free Speech on Campus’ discussion Oct. 25

Four speakers will examine the precarious intersection of free speech, hate speech and academic freedom at a special Tuesday, Oct. 25, public panel discussion at Middle Tennessee State University.

Free Speech panel f2016 poster web“Free Speech on Campus,” which is planned for 4:30 p.m. Oct 25 in the James Union Building’s Tennessee Room at MTSU, will feature College of Media and Entertainment Dean Ken Paulson, a First Amendment scholar; Joseph Cohn, legislative and policy director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE; cultural critic and Northwestern University media studies professor Laura Kipnis; and Jayla M. Jackson, an MTSU student journalist.

The free public discussion is sponsored by the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies at MTSU. A searchable, printable campus parking map is available at

Ken Paulson

Ken Paulson

Paulson, who also is president of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center and a former editor-in-chief of USA Today, speaks and writes often on the issue of free speech on campus, calling in particular for more effective teaching of the fundamental freedoms.

Writing about a petition to repeal the First Amendment that allegedly circulated at Yale University earlier this year, Paulson noted a “flurry of campus incidents in which protesters claimed a right to be free from exposure to hateful and insensitive speech. That’s not how America works. At its heart, the First Amendment says you’re free to say rude and stupid things, but you have to be willing to let other people say rude and stupid things.”

Cohn, a veteran attorney who worked for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and as interim legal director for ACLU affiliates in Nevada and Utah before joining the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based FIRE, said an April U.S. Department of Justice order instructing the University of New Mexico to establish what he called an “unconstitutional definition of sexual harassment” would force complaint investigations that would “silence huge numbers of students and professors who have better things to do than attend inquisitions.”

Joseph Cohn

Joseph Cohn

“The DOJ, like the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights before it, is counting on the unpleasant connotations of the term ‘sexual harassment’ to keep the media and public from noticing that it is defining an enormous amount of everyday speech as sexual harassment. Did you overhear someone retelling an Amy Schumer joke about sex that you found unpleasant? According to the DOJ, that makes them a harasser — even if they only did it once and didn’t do it again after you asked. If that’s harassment, the term is devoid of meaning,” Cohn wrote at

Laura Kipnis

Laura Kipnis

Kipnis, a former video artist who received Guggenheim, Rockefeller Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, has written for Harper’s, Playboy, Slate and The New York Times. She joined Northwestern’s School of Communication faculty in 1991, and her books include “How to Become a Scandal: Adventures in Bad Behavior” and “Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation.”

In February 2015, the Chronicle of Higher Education published Kipnis’ column, “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe,” which criticized Northwestern’s revised sexual conduct policy and mentioned sexual assault claims involving a professor and two students, calling the policy “feminism hijacked by melodrama.”

That column led two students to file a Title IX complaint against Kipnis, saying that her essay essentially retaliated against the original students and made reporting sexual misconduct more difficult on campus. Northwestern cleared Kipnis of any wrongdoing after a 72-day investigation.

Jayla Jackson

Jayla Jackson

Jackson, a Nashville sophomore majoring in multimedia journalism, is a reporter for the student TV station, MT10 News, and regularly covers student activism news.

She obtained a behind-the-scenes interview with civil rights pioneer Diane Nash during MTSU’s recent Constitution Day 2016 celebration and covered this month’s silent protest at a campus bus stop by students opposed to police shootings of unarmed African-Americans.

Jackson’s news videos are available at her Facebook page:

Seigenthaler Chair new logo webMTSU established the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies in 1986 to honor the iconic journalist’s lifelong commitment to free expression. The Seigenthaler Chair supports a variety of activities related to topics of concern for contemporary journalism, including distinguished visiting professors and visiting lecturers at MTSU, research, seminars, and hands-on training for student journalists.

You can learn more about MTSU’s John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies at

— Gina E. Fann (