Lecture brings visiting speaker to discuss why free speech matters

Brahm

Brahm

Jackie Jahfetson

A rather new institution at NMU is looking to help campus members reevaluate the meaning of free speech and will close the fall semester with an open discourse about what it means to speak freely on college campuses today.

The Center for Academic and Intellectual Freedom (CAIF) will present the inaugural lecture of the 2017-18 season with a speaker series titled “Reclaiming Free Speech and Academic Freedom on Campus,” and a forum for discussion about the meaning of free speech and thought on campus. The first visiting speaker will be Thomas Cushman, who is the founding director of the Freedom Project at Wellesley College. The discussion will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 7 in the University Center Nicolet Room.

In his discussion titled, “Who Gets to Speak and What Do They Get to Say?” Cushman, a sociology professor at Wellesley College, will talk to students about the roles that free speech plays in our society. He will also aim to raise awareness and tolerance on campus.

CAIF director and English associate professor Gabriel Brahm said he is an admirer of Cushman’s efforts and he was at the top of the list when trying to decide who would talk about the importance of freedom of expression.

“I wanted to bring him in as a symbol of what we hope to aspire to with our work here,” Brahm said.

In an age where Americans are at great odds with one another, it’s important that universities, the faculty and students come together and have open discussions about controversial issues and listen to different viewpoints without fear of “dogmatism,” Brahm said.

Cushman will give a “stimulating lecture,” where students can voice their own opinions afterwards in an extended discussion, Brahm added.

“I hope they’ll come away invigorated with a sense of the importance of the mission of the university—as a place for free and fearless intellectual inquiry among people who agree to seek the truth together in productive ways rather than destructive ways,” Brahm continued. “People should come away with a renewed sense of how important the health of universities are to our country.”


The CAIF, as an organization, strives to incorporate internship, scholarship and research opportunities in the future for students interested in pursuing similar public-like careers, Brahm said.

The speaker series will continue with two other speakers in the winter semester. Cary Nelson, a professor from the University of Illinois and former president of the national American Association of University Professors (AAUP), will discuss academic freedom in February. Mark Lilla, a professor at Columbia University, will be the final speaker who will address citizenship and identity in April.

The event will be an ecumenical, bipartisan and nonpartisan exercise in exploring the multiple meanings and lived experiences of civil society today, according to a press release. All students and community members are welcome to attend free of charge.