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FREE SPEECH

A podcast about the power of ideas and how language can change the world.

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Podcast Episodes

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Who has the right to speak on campus?

Joan Scott, Professor Emerita at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey, on Charlottesville, free speech on campus, and the role of the university. A pioneer in the study of gender in intellectual history, she is the author of the canonical article, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis” (1986), and several books, including The Politics of the Veil (2007), Gender and the Politics of History (1988), and most recently, Sex and Secularism (2017).

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There’s No Such Thing As Free Speech!

Stanley Fish, Visiting Professor at the Cardozo School of Law and author of "There is No Such Thing as Free Speech," makes the case that there isn't—at least not in an absolutist sense. And universities, among other institutions, have always regulated it.

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Does social justice need free speech?

Akeel Bilgrami, Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University talks about the shifting approaches to free speech in progressive activism on campus and the culturalization of the politics of equality. Professor Bilgrami is the author of Beyond the Secular West (2016), and the co-edited the collection Who’s Afraid of Academic Freedom? (2014).

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What is at stake for the university in the speech debates?

Prudence L. Carter is Dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, and Professor of Sociology. She served as co-chair of the Commission on Free Speech for UC Berkeley with Jay Wallace, who’s also been on Think About It. Carter’s work focuses on issues of youth identity, culture, race, class, gender, urban poverty, and social and educational policy. She is the author of Keepin’ It Real: School Success beyond Black and White (2005) and Stubborn Roots: Race, Culture and Inequality in U.S. and South African Schools (2012), and co-editor of Closing the Opportunity Gap: What America Must Do to Give Every Child an Even Chance (2013).

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How should a university deal with its past complicities with slavery and 'scientific' racism?

Salma Abdelrahaman is a junior at Harvard College studying sociology and African American studies, and a former member of the college's Undergraduate Council. She talked to Think About It about Harvard's history as a center for the development of ideas of 'scientific' racism, and the effort to organize a counter-event to the invitation of Charles Murray to campus. She is deeply invested in addressing issues of justice, particularly the abolition of the prison industrial complex. She has written extensively on social justice and speech for the Harvard Crimson and given a TEDx talk.

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What are the biggest threats to free expression today?


Suzanne Nossel, the Executive Director of PEN America, talks to Think About It about how she views contemporary issues around speech in America today, from President Trump's descriptions of the press as "fake news" and "the enemy of the people" to alternative news outlets that no longer respect journalistic standards, and the dangers of letting the government regulate speech on campus. Nossel is a former Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, and a former Chief Operating Officer for Human Rights Watch. She has written extensively for blogs and publications such as Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy.

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Could limits on speech result in totalitarianism?

Is the entirety of the developed world already lost? Jeremy Waldron, University Professor in the School of Law at New York University, doesn't quite agree. Equality and dignity, he tells us, are essential to free speech and hate speech is an "environmental issue.” Waldron is interested in the rule of law, democracy, security, torture, and homelessness. He is the author of The Harm of Hate Speech (2012) and Dignity, Rank, and Rights (2012), among others. One Another’s Equals

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Why does America think so differently about speech from the rest of the world?


Julie Suk was Professor of Law at Cardozo and now teaches at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is a scholar of comparative equality law and comparative constitutional law, with an eye to equality and anti-discrimination law in the United States and Europe. In this episode, Suk about the different ways in which different democracies understand speech, the dangers posed by populist nationalism across the globe to free expression, and expertise as the basis of regulating speech on campus. Suk’s articles have appeared in various journals, including the Columbia Law Review, Stanford Law Review, and the International Journal of Constitutional Law.

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Is "speech" the major underlying issue in recent Supreme Court decisions?


Kate Shaw is Professor of Law at the Cardozo School of Law, a former Special Assistant to the President and Associate Counsel to the President in the White House Counsel’s Office. In this conversation, she speaks to Think About It about constitutional jurisprudence around speech, current developments in constitutional law, and the role of speech in recent SCOTUS rulings. Shaw’s work spans the fields of administrative, constitutional, and election law, as well as legislation and elements of law. 

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Why aren't we talking about the 14th Amendment?

Tanya Hernández, Professor of Law at Fordham University, talks to Think About It about the necessity of discussing the First Amendment and the Fourteenth in the same breath, how an understanding of freedom of expression in the First is incomplete without raising the guarantee of equality in the Fourteenth, and the fallacious soapbox theory of free speech. Hernández is Professor of Law at Fordham University. Her work addresses issues of discrimination, Latin American and U.S. law, critical race theory, and the science of implicit bias. She is the author of Multiracials and Civil Rights: Mixed-Race Stories of Discrimination. 

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Is there a constitutionally sound way to regulate hate speech?

Richard Delgado, Professor of Law at the University of Alabama is one of the founders of Critical Race Theory, and author of "Must We Defend Nazis?" He speaks to us about the essential relationship between free speech and equality. His work focuses on race, the legal profession, and social change, and he is the author of Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (2012) and the recently revised landmark book Must We Defend Nazis? Why the First Amendment Should Not Protect Hate Speech and White Supremacy (2018).

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Is believing in free speech a little like believing in Santa Claus?

Carolyn Rouse, Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University explains the historical, cultural, and contextual nature of speech, better ways to think about trigger warnings, and teaching students the patient art of critical thinking. Rouse is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University. Her work explores evidence-based approaches to race and social inequality. She is the author of Engaged Surrender: African American Women and Islam (2004) and Televised Redemption: Black Religious Media and Racial Empowerment (2016), and has directed/produced a number of documentary films.

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Can Hate Speech Only Be Countered With More Speech?

Nadine Strossen, former President of the ACLU and professor at New York Law School, argues for the essential role of free speech in social justice activism and the limits of regulating speech. Strossen works and teaches in the areas of constitutional law and civil liberties. Her books include, among others, HATE: Why We Should Resist It With Free Speech, Not Censorship (2018) and Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights (1995).

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Has the First Amendment become a weapon for the far-right?

Robert Post, Professor and former Dean at Yale Law School, discusses the First Amendment, its interpretations, uses and misuses, and the varied ways in which speech is regulated in America. Post’s expertise lies in First Amendment and constitutional law, legal history, and equal protection. He is the author of Citizens Divided, Democracy, Expertise, Academic Freedom: A First Amendment Jurisprudence for the Modern State (2012) and, with Matthew Finkin, For the Common Good: Principles of American Academic Freedom (2009), among other books.

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What do you do when your college is at the center of a national controversy?

Nicholas Whittaker is a rising senior at Harvard College, where he studies philosophy. In his free time, he contributes opinion writings to the Harvard Crimson. In this episode, he talks about the misconstrual of student demands against inviting speakers such as Charles Murray, and the responsibility of prestigious universities such as Harvard in setting an example in equality, inclusion, and scientific rigor. 

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What does power have to do with free speech?

Sarah Kenny is a former student and president of the student council at the University of Virginia. In this interview, she talks about the contested legacy of Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia, disputes over civility, and the experience of being at the center of the terrible events of the summer 2017. 

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How can Charlottesville recover from the carnage of summer 2017?

John Mason, Professor of History at the University of Virginia, discusses the violent and troubled history of Charlottesville and the U.S. South, what to do with Confederate statues, and coming to terms with the collective trauma of the events of summer 2017 Mason is Professor of History at the University of Virginia, and teaches African (in particular, South African) history and the history of photography. He served on the commission to decide on what to do with the confederate monuments in Charlottesville. His books include Social Death and Resurrection: Slavery and Emancipation in South Africa (2003) and One Love, Ghoema Beat: Inside the Cape Town New Year's Carnival (2010), as well as a forthcoming book on Gordon Parks and American Democracy.

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Charlottesville was not about speech but violence.

In this episode I speak with Ben Doherty, the Head of Library Instruction and a Research Librarian at the University of Virginia School of Law, who discusses the events of August 2017 in light of the violence that occurred, and how a narrow focus on speech obscures the issues we still need to grapple with today. 

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Did the civil rights movement owe its existence to free speech, or is free speech the result of social movements?

Fred Schauer, Distinguished Professor of Law the University of Virginia, thinks most people have got the causation backwards. In this episode, he tells us about the history of legal interpretations of the First Amendment, and the costs of enforcing the speech rights of hate groups. Schauer is known for his work in constitutional and First Amendment law. He has authored a number of books, most recently The Force of Law (2015). 

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What is the theory of language behind our understanding of free speech?

Sonia Das is Professor of Anthropology at NYU and the author of Linguistic Rivalries: Tamil Migrants and Anglo-Franco Conflicts (2016). As a specialist in linguistic anthropology, she wants to know how abstract ideas about speech are lived by human beings, and how language not only reflects the world we live in, but constructs it too. Is hate speech just speech we dislike or a phenomenon that impacts the way we live?  Das’s recent work engages the questions of hate speech and American free speech doctrine from an anthropological perspective.

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When the university speaks, what should it say?

Universities should never restrict speech, but they should use other ways of expressing their values and opinions. This is the view of Corey Brettschneider, who is Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Brown University, where he teaches constitutional law and politics. He is also Visiting Professor of Law at Fordham Law School. He is the author of When the State Speaks, What Should it Say? How Democracies Can Protect Expression and Promote Equality (2012) and The Oath and the Office: A Guide to the Constitution for Future President’s Book.

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Where do these controversies start – a deep dive into American politics from the 1960s till today.

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There must be no middle ground on speech.

In this episode I speak with Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and a Distinguished Professor of Law. He is the author of ten books, including The Case Against the Supreme Court (2014) and Closing the Courthouse Doors: How Your Constitutional Rights Became Unenforceable. Here he explains his stance that all speech, including hate speech, should be allowed on campus, and why open debate will ultimately lead to the best results. Free Speech on Campus (with Howard Gillman).

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What are the philosophical assumptions and underpinnings of free speech?


Jay Wallace is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley and served as co-chair, with Dean Prudence Carter, of the Commission on Free Speech for UC Berkeley. Wallace works in moral philosophy, political philosophy, philosophy of law, and philosophy of action. He is the author of the forthcoming book The Moral Nexus, as well as Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments (1998), The View from Here: On Affirmation, Attachment, and the Limits of Regret, among others.

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What’s the relation of free speech, hate speech, and equality in America?

How can we make sense of the speech debates in today’s legal and political contexts? David Oppenheimer is Clinical Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, Co-Director of the Pro Bono Group, and Director of the Berkeley Comparative Equality and Antidiscrimination Law Study Group. He is the co-author of the books Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law (2012) and Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society (2003), as well as many journal articles and book chapters.

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The law is not a static thing.

In this episode I speak with Luna Martinez, a student at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law who is interested in using the law as a vehicle for social change. Martinez offers a nuanced view of how students think about the campus controversies, and how the law is worthy of careful analysis in order to advance society’s goals. 

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Do the champions of free speech today really represent the liberal values they lay claim to?

Jason Stanley is Professor of Philosophy at Yale University and the author of How Fascism Works. In this conversation with Think About It, he discusses the necessity of taking hate speech and dehumanizing language seriously, the politics of inviting speakers to campus, and privacy as a core aspect of liberal democracies. specializes in philosophy of language, epistemology, action theory, and early analytic philosophy. He is the author of How Propaganda Works (2015), among others.

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Can teaching liberate you from living in a myth? What if racism will never end?

In this episode I speak with Professor David Shih at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, who has not only thought and written powerfully about free speech on campus but enacts his understanding of this issue in his teaching. Professor Shih has a blog hosted by Stanford which you should check out: https://arcade.stanford.edu/blogs/user/david-shih

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Why does the ACLU defend the alt-right?

What else does it do? Join me in a thoughtful conversation with Emerson Sykes, Staff Attorney at the ACLU on Free Speech, Technology, and Privacy, about the important role of the ACLU in upholding everyone's speech rights regardless of political affiliation. Emerson holds degrees from Stanford, New York University, and the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, and has worked in both politics and the law.

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Truth, Lies, Propaganda, and the University in the Age of Trump.


In free democracies, the role of the university is to be an arbiter of truth. They share this critical role with a free press. What is happening with universities in the age of Trump, where the media's role as an arbiter of truth is under severe attack? What does 'normalizing' incendiary speech really mean? How can we counter the erosion of belief in the truth and in facts, in science and expertise? And how can you do defend yourself against becoming a helpless puppet at the mercy of those who feed the media frenzy with provocation and outrage, and still stay up on the news? Join me in a conversation with Professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an expert of the history of fascism at New York University, and a frequent commentator on various platforms and monthly columnist for CNN.com on contemporary politics . You can find Professor Ben-Ghiat at ruthbenghiat.com