Tag Archives: Critical Dialogues

Free Speech & Difficult Ideas: The Way Forward

Over the past few years in writing for the 6 x 6 writing project I have often written on the themes of free speech and the need for critical, civil, and constructive dialogue—see “Celebrating the Value of Free Speech” and “The Other DEI… Diversity in Examining Ideas.”  This focus has been reinforced recently by the Faculty Senate’s adoption of a GCC-version of the “Chicago Principles.”  Here are some relevant sections of the GCC statement:

Of course, the ideas of different members of the GCC community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of GCC to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although GCC greatly values civility, and although all members of the GCC community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.

In a word, GCC’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the GCC community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the GCC community, not for GCC as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the GCC community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of GCC’s educational mission.

The GCC Philosophy and Religious Studies Department continues to manifest this commitment to the free expression of ideas in a rational and civil manner.  By its sponsorship of its annual panel discussions—“God & Truth” and “Critical Dialogues”—our campus and community have the opportunity to witness and participate in the ongoing interaction of ideas.

Free Speech on the Campus

Last October our “Critical Dialogues” panel discussion was devoted to one of the most enduring and controversial topics in our culture—Abortion.  And, again, we witnessed a rational, civil interchange which should be envy of any institution of higher learning.  We chose the title, “Abortion: Beyond the Slogans, Beyond the Rage,” which communicated our desire for a deeper analysis of the debate in a context devoid of acrimony—you can watch the event and see if we accomplished our goals!

In the Classroom…

n my introduction to philosophy classes, I wanted to bring this quest for rational and civil dialogue to my students.  Early in the semester we go over logic and logical fallacies.  Then every week we review a particular logical fallacy.  This served as a good foundation from which to work as we approached the topic of abortion after the Critical Dialogues panel discussion.  So often the debate on this topic is dominated by slogans and fallacious reasons and helping students see through the irrational slogans would serve them well in their logical development.  Over the past fifty years the philosophical literature is replete with sophisticated defenses of both the pro-choice and pro-life perspectives.  I had my students read a classic pro-choice piece—Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “A Defense of Abortion” and the pro-life philosopher, Francis Beckwith’s response, “Personal Bodily Rights, Abortion, and Unplugging the Violinist.”  Then, in class, I went over the philosophical terrain of the arguments and where the key philosophical issues came to expression.  I utilized Dr. Angela Knobel’s outline of the various arguments and this allowed for a rich discussion on the topic.  Later, in their philosophy journals, several students mentioned that, although they had not necessarily changed their minds on the topic of abortion, they did have a greater appreciation for the other side of the debate.  Serious interaction on a controversial cultural topic with a renewed appreciation for other points of view—that’s educational success!


The Other DEI… Diversity in Examining Ideas

The Other DEI… Diversity in Examining Ideas

There is the need for civil dialogue on the complex and controversial issues of our time.  It should be one of the tasks of higher education to illuminate the path toward such a goal.  This quest, however, is fraught with danger in that there are some who would rather shut down dialogue and debate rather than engage in rational intellectual interchange.  The examination of ideas and perspectives different from one’s own can be disorienting.  I often remind students to embrace the cognitive dissonance they may at times experience as they learn new philosophical ideas, rather than simply run from it.  Even if one does not change their views on a given topic, the challenge of working through the intellectual discomfort of foreign ideas can lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the views which they hold.  I hope all would resonate with the words found in the Arizona Revised Statutes when they state:

“It is not the proper role of an institution of higher education to shield individuals from speech protected by the first amendment, including, without limitation, ideas and opinions that may be unwelcome, disagreeable or deeply offensive.”

Toward this end of promoting free exchange in the marketplace of ideas, the GCC Philosophy and Religious Studies Department along with the GCC Philosophy Club continues to sponsor its bi-annual panel discussions—God & Truth; Critical Dialogues.  These events allow a spectrum of speakers to engage significant and, sometimes, controversial topics in an atmosphere of mutual respect and reasoned engagement.  The issues discussed run the gamut from religious issues such as the meaning of life and God and morality to the political and cultural issues of transgenderism and religious rights and civil rights.

Our recent Critical Dialogues panel was titled “Religion and the Public Square: Scope and Limits of the First Amendment” and, as the title indicates, dealt with the extent of religious speech and expression in light of other recognized rights. 

We are already planning our next Critical Dialogues panel discussion set for October and we are planning to tackle one of the most contentious issues in our culture—Abortion.  Dealing with a topic which is prone to sloganeering and emotion is challenging and we are hopeful of examining the philosophical and legal aspects of this debate from different perspectives.  And, as always, we will be seeking to model to our students, staff, and community how to have a serious and substantive conversation in an engaging and civil manner. 

I wrote a piece for the 6×6 blog series back in February 2020 (before Covid!)—Celebrating the Value of Free Speech!—and I ended that piece with the following words which still seem apropos:

The Need for Vigilance

The culture of free expression and civil disagreement is healthy at Glendale Community College. This is partly a function of the laws enshrined in the Arizona statutes as well as the legal precedents handed down in defense of the Maricopa County Community College District.  For example, in a 2010 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit—Rodriquez v. Maricopa County Community College District—these powerful words are found:

“Without the right to stand against society’s most strongly-held convictions, the marketplace of ideas would decline into a boutique of the banal, as the urge to censor is greatest where debate is most disquieting and orthodoxy most entrenched.  The right to provoke, offend and shock lies at the core of the First Amendment. This is particularly so on college campuses.”  

Laws and legal precedent are necessary but not sufficient.  There is always the need for vigilance.  There must continue to be a firm commitment to freedom on the part of individuals who inhabit our institutions of higher learning.  As Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate remind us, “Freedom dies in the heart and will before it dies in the law.”  It is for this reason that institutions like Glendale Community College with their commitment to the free exchange of ideas ought to be celebrated and emulated.