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[VIRTUAL] The Common Room: State Legislators and Academic Freedom

Since the start of the year, a wave of bills have been introduced by state legislators around the country, taking aim at the ideologies, curricula, and teaching approaches in colleges and universities. Proposals include surveying the political leanings of professors, banning the teaching of “divisive concepts” and curricular materials from The New York Times’s 1619 Project, and limiting the availability of financial aid to certain academic majors. State legislators have made requests to examine concepts and terminology taught in specific classes, or have called—both publicly and privately—for some professors to be terminated for their speech. Some allege the wave of activity is having a chilling effect on professors, while others believe these elected representatives are merely executing their duties.


Join Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education at PEN America, for an interactive forum to discuss these issues and possible responses from the higher ed sector. Friedman will be joined by guests Musa al-Gharbi, the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Columbia University; Lindsay Ellis, senior reporter at The Chronicle of Higher Education; and Jeffrey Sachs, political scientist from Acadia University.

The Common Room is a biweekly series for faculty, administrators, staff, and students, to explore issues at the intersection of free speech, academic freedom, diversity, and inclusion in higher education. PEN America members, supporters, and friends, including the general public, are invited to attend.


Jonathan Friedman headshot

Jonathan Friedman is the director of free expression and education at PEN America, where he oversees advocacy, analysis, and outreach to educational communities and academic institutions. In this role, he drives forward PEN America’s efforts to catalyze a more informed, civic culture through free expression education for the rising generation and the general public. Friedman served as lead author on PEN America’s 2019 report, Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America, and on the production of its digital Campus Free Speech Guide. He regularly provides commentary on campus free speech issues for national news media, has facilitated workshops, and has conducted advisory meetings with students, faculty, and administrators at dozens of colleges and universities across the United States.


Musa al-Gharbi headshotMusa al-Gharbi is a Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Columbia University. His research explores how knowledge is produced, transmitted, evaluated, and put to use (or not)—and how thinking is shaped by the institutions and social contexts people find themselves in. He has applied these frameworks to issues of race, inequality, social movements, extremism, policing, national security, foreign policy—and more recently—U.S. political elections. Connect to his research and social media via his website: musaalgharbi.com.

Lindsay Ellis headshotLindsay Ellis is a senior reporter at The Chronicle of Higher Education, where she covers research universities. Her stories have addressed change, cooperation with business, research security, and crisis management. She came to The Chronicle after reporting on Texas higher-education issues for the Houston Chronicle, where she was part of a team that won an Associated Press Media Editors (APME) grand prize and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of Hurricane Harvey.

Ellis has also covered business at the Times Union, in Albany, NY. A Boston native, Ellis studied English and history at Dartmouth College.

Jeffrey Sachs headshotJeffrey Sachs is a political scientist at Acadia University, where he specializes in free speech issues, academic freedom, and judicial politics in the Middle East. His writings have appeared in The Washington Post, Arc Digital, Heterodox Academy, and elsewhere.

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