Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

A series of start-of-semester events support President Martha Pollack's commitment to discuss freedom of expression on campus.

August 21, 2023

Cornell to Host Free Expression Events to Kick Off Academic Year Theme

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This year, the University is following through on its commitment to host freedom of expression events on campus. As of Monday, Aug. 21, Cornell lists five events under the academic year theme of “The Indispensable Condition: Freedom of Expression at Cornell.”

“The free exchange of ideas underpins everything we do as a university — educating new generations of global citizens, pursuing novel research and scholarship and advancing the public good,” the University’s event website states. “We encourage Cornellians everywhere to challenge personal beliefs, to consider new ideas and unfamiliar perspectives and to foster discussion around core freedoms for democracy and higher education.”

These events uphold the commitment by President Martha Pollack to host free expression-themed events this academic year. On Aug. 15, Pollack joined the Campus Call for Free Expression, a joint effort by 13 universities to model critical inquiry and civil discourse on their campuses.

“Throughout the academic year, Cornell University students, faculty and staff will come together and engage with topics of free expression and academic freedom through scholarly and creative events and activities, including debates among invited speakers who model civil discourse and exhibitions and performances,” the Campus Call website states.

Upon the initiative’s announcement, Pollack said it is “critical to our mission as a university to think deeply about freedom of expression and the challenges that result from assaults on it.” 

The first event in the series will be hosted by the Cornell Law School on Thursday, Sept. 7. Titled “The Fundamentals of Freedom of Expression,” the event will explore free speech from a legal perspective. Constitutional law scholar Prof. Michael Dorf, law, expert in law and technology interactions Prof. Karen Levy, sociology, and First Amendment scholar Prof. Nelson Tebbe, law, will be engaged in conversation about the First Amendment and the intersection between free speech principles and the increasingly digital world. The event will also feature a discussion about the importance of speech and debate in academia.

Next on the schedule is the 2023 Daniel W. Kops Freedom of the Press Lecture featuring Jamelle Bouie, a columnist for the New York Times and former CBS News political analyst and chief political correspondent for Slate Magazine. Delivering a lecture on Sept. 12 titled “Constitutionalism, Reform of the Press’ Role in Helping the Public Think About Institutions,” Bouie will offer his perspective on civil unrest and political partisanship, according to the event description.

“Jamelle Bouie is one of our most incisive analysts, on topics from the Supreme Court to partisan politics. Amidst our frenetic and fleeting media cycle, Bouie is distinguished for his deep study of United States history, which has gained a greater appreciation in our era of political crisis and racial reckoning,” wrote Prof. Tejasvi Nagaraja, industrial and labor relations — who nominated Bouie to speak at the event — in an email to The Sun. “If civic education is essential for a deeper democracy, Bouie’s work is a most worthy contribution.”

On Sept. 23, the Brooks School of Public Policy, in partnership with Opera Ithaca, will host Scalia/Ginsburg Opera, a one-act operatic comedy that showcases the unexpected friendship between U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54 and Antonin Scalia. Though the two were polar opposites on the court, they were able to reconcile those differences and have a meaningful relationship.

“The deep and remarkable friendship of Justices Ginsburg and Scalia endured across decades of what Justice Ginsburg herself called ‘frequently dueling opinions,’” Pollack told the Cornell Chronicle earlier this month. “That friendship is at the core of ‘Scalia/Ginsburg’: an important, timely and delightful demonstration of the kind of civil discourse, commitment to shared values and respect for difference that we hope to strengthen this year at Cornell.” 

In a Howard and Abby Milstein Foundation event on Sept. 26, Professor Jameel Jaffer of Columbia University and Professor Eugene Volokh of the University of California, Los Angeles will engage in a conversation about the scope and boundaries of freedom of expression “through a First Amendment lens,” according to the event description. Jaffer has experience as a litigator on issues of speech, especially concerning how it connects to technology and the public interest, and Volokh is the head of the First Amendment Amicus Clinic at UCLA Law and an editor of the Journal of Free Speech Law. 

The last event announced will be a performance of Toni Morrison’s M.A. ’55 play “Desdemona” on Oct. 27, put on by students in the Department of Performing and Media Arts. 

“Morrison was a beacon for freedom of expression, a champion for self expression,” wrote department director Prof. Beth Frances Milles, PMA, in an email to The Sun. “Morrison’s books have been the subject of targeted censorship — of myriad bans — across the country for their brutal honesty articulating racism-evincing conversations reckoning with America’s racial past… [The play serves as] a reminder that the arts can be a location where complex conversations can be initiated — and community engagement can thrive.”