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Lewis & Clark Law Professors Express Free Speech Concerns in Aftermath of Guest Speaker Disruptions

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Professors at Lewis & Clark College are expressing their concerns after a group of students successfully derailed an event featuring Christina Hoff Sommers earlier this month.

13 professors at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, have drafted a free speech statement in response to a student protest on March 5 that effectively shut down an event featuring American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers.

The resolution, which was meant to mirror the famous University of Chicago’s Statement on Principles of Free Expression, reclaims for Lewis & Clark College a commitment to free expression.

The faculty at Lewis and Clark College are dedicated to the free exchange of ideas in the service of liberal education. We believe, therefore, that the College must guarantee all members of the Lewis and Clark community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn. Except insofar as limitations on that freedom are necessary to the functioning of the institution, Lewis and Clark fully respects and supports the freedom of all members of the institution to discuss any problem that presents itself.

Associate Professor of English Lyell Asher explained that the student protesters derailing the Sommers event pushed him over the edge. “What sparked it for me was the attempt by student protestors to decide for the rest of us what we could and could not hear,” Asher said in a comment to the Lewis & Clark student newspaper. “The attempt to ‘noplatform’ a speaker is, to my mind, the equivalent of book burning. Preventing someone from delivering a talk is like pulling a book out of my hand.”

Other professors that signed onto the resolution were less enthusiastic than Asher. Still, they argued that educational institutions must protect free expression.

“It’s always a bit of a balancing act because obviously you can’t say whatever you want and there are guidelines about what’s appropriate given the values of the college, the mission statement and then obviously safety and security issues too,” Associate Professor of History and Department Chair David Campion said in a comment. “But, I think we should err more on the side of freedom and free expression because we are an educational institution and that is part of our mission to have robust debates and to have a wide variety of viewpoints.”

Associate Professor of Political Science and Department Chair Todd Lochner admitted that he did not know much about the Sommers event but argued that the college was due for a reaffirmation of its commitment to free speech.

“I don’t want to give the impression that my signing this document is a reaction to the Law School event,” Lochner said. “I wasn’t there. I don’t know anything about the speaker. I do know that students protested and attempted to shut down the speech … But, to my mind, that is not the central thing driving my support for this policy. I just think that it is a useful time, when we look out across college campuses throughout the country, to reflect on what is our commitment to freedom of speech.”

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