MU law school has public conference on free expression

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COLUMBIA – The University of Missouri’s School of Law will hold a First Amendment symposium on Friday. 

The meeting is being used to talk about free expression on campus, past protests and how universities can best manage conflicts and disputes in regards to the First Amendment.

“Almost every day there’s a new story about some kind of first amendment conflict on a campus around the United States and certainly we had that on our campus back in the fall of 2015,” law professor Robert Jerry said.

According to a press release, MU School of Law experts hope the meeting can be used to “advance the public’s understanding of how university leaders can remain true to both the mission of the university and the values of the First Amendment. 

Free speech scholars, university leaders and dispute resolution experts from all over the country will share their experience with free speech conflicts at the meeting.  

The meeting will begin with narratives from individuals who have been involved with free speech issues in university settings, including speakers from Auburn University, Middlebury College and the University of Missouri.

“I hope by the end of the day, we can extrapolate a set of best practices that will help universities all around the country think about how to work through these conflicts and issues,” Jerry said. 

The keynote speaker is constitutional law expert Robert Post from Yale University.

“We have a lot of different issues in our country,” Jerry said. “We’ve got a lot of difficult issues we’re still trying to work through because our democracy is still a work in progress and some of these are very troublesome and difficult ones.”

“If we can’t figure out ways to work through these issues on our college campuses, I don’t have a whole lot of hope for our society,” he said. “Universities need to be leaders in how we work through the complex issues of our times and I think here we hope to make a contribution.”  

The press release also said the University of Missouri System and its four campuses reaffirmed their commitment to free expression in August by endorsing a statement that says, in part, “freedom of expression is indispensable to a university’s ability to transmit knowledge and is fundamental to the ability of members of a university community to discover, explore, interpret, and question knowledge.”

Over the past few years, MU has hosted speakers and community forums to discuss topics of diversity and inclusion.  

In June, six university policies came into effect. The policies cover the use of free space and facilities, illuminated devices, sound amplification devices, posted materials on campus, chalking and camping in regards to free expression on campus. 

However, Jerry said the symposium is used to find even better ways to work through freedom of speech conflict and issues on campus.

By the end of the day, Jerry said that he hopes they will have a set of ideas that universities around the country will read and say, “yes, these are things we need to work on, that we can do, that we will help manage and work through the enduring conflicts that our country is always going to have in respect to the meaning of the first amendment.”

The conference starts at 9 a.m. in Hulston Hall on MU’s campus. It is open to the public.

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