UA “On Topic” features segment on campus free speech

May 3, 2019

Leona Long

This week’s On Topic with Jim Johnsen features a discussion between Johnsen and Erwin Chemerinsky, the nation’s leading authority on campus free speech. The discussion, recorded in October as part of a campus free speech event at UAA, was the first in the “On Topic” 10-part series of conversations with experts and authors on important issues that face Alaska produced in collaboration with the University of Alaska Press and hosted by President Johnsen.


“I can think of no better place in a free society than a university to test ideas, especially those that are highly controversial and objectionable, through open and rigorous debate,” Johnsen said. “Our campuses are part of a vibrant university where ideas, opinions, and debates are welcome.”


Months before President Donald Trump signed an executive order regarding campus free speech, Johnsen hosted the public forum to address the issues confronting free speech on campus. This UAA forum kicked off a series of events systemwide on the subject and featured Chemerinsky, dean of the Berkeley Law School. The forum also included UAA Seawolf Debate Team tackling the proposition of whether “The future of democracy depends on limiting free speech,” followed by a panel discussion and an interactive audience question and answer session. The event was live streamed to all UA campuses. The recording is available at


The executive order signed in March by President Donald Trump focused on federal funding and grants to higher education contingent on how they enforce the right to free expression. The executive order was his response to concerns that conservative views are suppressed on campuses across the country.


Just before the forum began, Chemerinsky, author of the book ‘Free Speech on Campus’ sat down for a one-on-one conversation with Johnsen about free speech values. “I think universities can model civil discourse, universities can provide a basis for exposing students to a variety of different ideas that I want on my campus and at my law school – to have a series of debates on controversial issues so long as the speakers can disagree without being disagreeable,” he said. “They can model how people can handle controversial issues.”  

President Johnsen is committed to ensuring free speech and freedom of expression on campus and fostering an environment where students learn to engage in critical thinking. Here is his reading list on freedom of expression:

  1. Apology of Socrates by Plato
  2. On Liberty by John Stuart Mill
  3. Two Concepts of Liberty by Isaiah Berlin
  4. The American Association of University Professors’ Policy Documents and Reports (also known as the “Redbook”)
  5. Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago
  6. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States
  7. “A Free-Speech To-Do List for College Administrators” by Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman, appeared in the Wall Street Journal
  8. “Free Speech, Campus Safety, or Both” by Mark G. Yudof and Kenneth Waltzer, appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education