UChicago, German Rectors’ Conference to present June 24 conference on free expression

The University of Chicago and the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) will present a virtual conference on free expression June 24.

“Freedom of Expression: On the Culture of Debate at Universities” will examine the state of free debate and open discourse at universities in the United States and Germany, in light of recent controversies on many campuses and their political ramifications. Legal and academic scholars will explore questions such as whether there are limits to free speech and the best ways to protect the principles of free expression.

The conference also will address how institutions can uphold both free expression and the values of diversity and inclusion that are core to the University of Chicago as well as to the German Rectors’ Conference. It will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. CDT. Please register to attend here.

Free expression’s role as a defining issue for universities has come into sharp focus as many universities in the U.S. and Germany have struggled to develop a consistent approach. The rapid shift to remote learning due to the COVID-19 crisis has once more reshaped the educational environment and presents new challenges and opportunities for how institutions of higher learning engage in debate.

“Learning to value, challenge and defend ideas is foundational to the educational experience at our University,” said Provost Ka Yee C. Lee. “This conference builds on our institutional commitment to foster a diverse and inclusive environment in which different voices are represented, which is critical for the robust debate of ideas. We’re excited to bring scholars together to explore the limits and impact of free expression—not just in the educational experience but in our global society.”

The conference builds upon the University of Chicago’s longstanding commitment to the principles of free speech and academic freedom. In 2015, the University published the Chicago Principles, which articulates its overarching commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation.

“Like liberal democracy, universities rely on the freedom to think, question, and share ideas,” said Peter-André Alt, president of the German Rectors’ Conference. “And like liberal democracy itself, universities have been targeted by those who do not believe in a plurality of legitimate perspectives. I strongly believe that the commitment to free speech is an essential element of our universities’ culture which needs to be protected in a time of great uncertainty and political upheaval.”

As the umbrella organization of German universities and universities of applied science, as well as colleges of art and music, HRK shares a commitment to protecting the principles of free discussion and open debate at higher education institutions.

Participants for the Freedom of Expression conference include:

  • Ka Yee C. Lee, Provost of the University of Chicago
  • Professor Dr. Susanne Baer, LL.M., Justice of the First Senate at The Federal Constitutional Court in Germany

Panel participants:

  • Daniel Diermeier, former University of Chicago Provost and incoming Chancellor of Vanderbilt University
  • Professor Dr. Peter-André Alt, President of the German Rectors’ Conference
  • Geoffrey R. Stone, the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago Law School
  • Professor Dr. Katrin Kinzelbach, Professor for the International Politics of Human Rights, Institute for Political Science, Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg

The panel will be moderated by journalist Dr. Jan-Martin Wiarda.