Tag Archives: Free speech

Free speech alive at nation’s universities? An article from Kathleen McCartney (president of Smith College in Northampton, MA)



Reading this passionate article on the webpage of CNN, regarding free speech at risk in our Universities, I remembered a book written a couple of years ago by Marta Nussbaum, “Not for profit: why democracy needs the Humanities”, on the importance of Socratic debate through the study of Humanities. The problem of concentrating only on natural or material sciences, Nussbaum argued, was that our societies can build more things, make them working to the perfection and beyond…but without liberal arts what is the destination of our democracy? Will our hearts and minds still alive for debate, discussion, disagreements? If we increasingly treat education as if its primary goal were to teach students to be economically productive rather than to think critically and become knowledgeable and empathetic citizens, this will not be good for our democracy. Democracy finally is “agree to disagree” but if we unlearn how to disagree we cannot neither agree. If we forget about how to protest and express our freedom of speech without harass and condemn how can we argue, reflect, think creatively, solve our conflicts and improve our societies?

So we really need to reflect on how to empower our debates and as a result our participation to the public sphere. The important thing is to start through education, in particular in our Universities, our old Agoras, given that fortunately we still have them. And also in our social media, our new Agoras, even if we need to take care about bullying and harassment that social media can reinforce nowadays. Therefore it is important to write the rules of the game, through which everyone can feel comfortable in expressing the personal opinion, even if different from the rest of the mass. And it is important to do networking as alone we cannot be really free, because ‘freedom is participation’, as Giorgio Gaber, a famous Italian intellectual, was saying. Some web pages on increasing public participation (both in the US and Europe) can help us to start to participate and so use our freedom of speech in a constructive way: