Logan R. Cyrus/The New York Times

Cornel West, an academic and philosopher, will be one of two guests featured at The Peter ’69 and Marilyn ’69 Coors Conversation Series discussing free speech and democracy.

September 2, 2021

Cornel West and Prof. Robert George to Discuss Free Speech in Coors Conversation Series

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Distinguished professors Robert George and Cornel West will discuss democracy and free speech as part of The Peter ’69 and Marilyn ’69 Coors Conversation Series titled “Civil Discourse” on Sep. 9.

The series, hosted by the Cornell Law School and sponsored by Cornell alumni Pete and Marilyn Coors, is the first in an intended four-part series to spark discussion among the Cornell community on national issues. It will feature a range of topics in an attempt to foster greater understanding across varied perspectives.

Prof. Sheri Lynn Johnson, law, who specializes in constitutional and criminal law, will moderate the event. 

George’s writings have been featured in publications including the Yale Law Journal, the Harvard Law Review and the Columbia Law Review. He serves as the director of Princeton University’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.

George has also published numerous books on the topic of morality and law, such as Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality, In Defense of Natural Law, The Clash of Orthodoxies and Conscience and Its Enemies. He has received several awards for his teaching and human rights advocacy.

Cornel West is the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Chair at Union Theological Seminary, where he teaches the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian known for his writings on Christianity’s role in a secular world. West leads courses in a broad range of topics, including the classics, philosophy, politics, cultural theory, literature and music.

West is best known for his books Race Matters and Democracy Matters, which are both regarded as contemporary classics. He has also been a guest on the Bill Maher Show, CNN, C-Span and Democracy Now, discussing various national issues including police violence. 

West made headlines this past summer after he resigned from Harvard University, after it rejected his application for tenure. In a letter West shared on Twitter, he cites political prejudice as the reason for his tenure rejection and mentions his support for Palestinian rights causing hostility from the Harvard administration.  

“We all knew the mendacious reasons given had nothing to do with academic standards,” West wrote in his letter. “When my committee recommended a tenure review — also rejected by the Harvard administration — I knew my academic achievements and student teaching meant far less than their political prejudices.”

George and West, described as two ideologically opposed professors, wrote a statement in 2017 on the same topic of this upcoming discussion, titled “Truth Seeking, Democracy and Freedom of Thought and Expression.” The statement came in response to the March 2017 event at Middlebury College, where students shouted down conservative guest speaker Prof. Charles Murray.

“All of us should be willing — even eager — to engage with anyone who is prepared to do business in the currency of truth-seeking discourse by offering reasons, marshaling evidence, and making arguments,” they wrote in the statement published on Princeton’s James Madison Program website.

The Coors conversation series launched in 2019 with a discussion on executive power in politics with lawyers George T. Conway III and Neal Katyal. Other guest speakers that same year included Ezra Klein, founder of Vox, and Andrew Sullivan, a former editor of The New Republic, who discussed whether illiberalism is corroding our democracy.

The series will take place on Sep. 9 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. in the Landis Auditorium at Myron Taylor Hall. It is open to Cornell faculty, staff and students, with Cornell ID required at the door. It will also be streamed through CornellCast. The event will be followed by an open discussion moderated by the Cornell Political Union. 

Correction, Sep. 2, 12:03 p.m.: A previous version of this article inaccurately stated that Prof. Charles Murray was shouted down and injured at the speaking event at Middlebury College. Prof. Murray was shouted down, but he was not injured at the event, Prof. Allison Stanger was the person injured as she and Murray left the building.