Talk About the Passion

Lucy Dalglish, dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, has made a career of fighting for free speech, whether as a media lawyer, reporter, editor or head of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Now she thinks there’s a new First Amendment battleground: higher education.

Last year saw a wave of campus protests that sprouted from racial controversies but often featured sideshow battles with the press, from students and faculty at the University of Missouri attempting to remove a photographer from a public quad to Smith College activists mandating explicit support from media before granting access to a sit-in.

Dalglish talked to Terp about these clashes and how the best way to combat offensive speech is with more speech.

TERP: Students have defended restricting press access as necessary for productive dialogue and safeguarding vulnerable people. Do you agree, or does that blur the line between being protected and being sheltered?

Dalglish: I think this is not entirely our students’ fault. This generation has been raised to have the best, to be protected. They all were in situations where they were all “special.” In the grand rush to provide stem education, with No Child Left Behind, all these other initiatives, civics education has been virtually eliminated from America’s elementary and secondary schools.

TERP: Are relationships with parents and school curriculum the main sources? Or are there influences from the outside world as well?

Daglish: It’s coming from a lot of places. Look at Congress—they can’t even behave in civil fashion toward each other. As you’re growing up, you model behavior for our young people. And you know who’s really losing out, particularly on campuses and places like this? The conservative students. Where do you think a kid that was promoting the Second Amendment would get to on this campus? We are preparing these students to be our future leaders and citizens, and they need to know how to engage in public discourse.

TERP: People compare today’s activism to the 1960s, when students also stormed administration buildings and engaged in civil disobedience. How are student protesters today making different choices?

Daglish: Back then, student activists would do anything they could to get media attention. The more attention to what they were saying, the better. I want to hear what all these current students have to say. But if you’re just going to retreat to your own little meeting rooms and just let things boil and stew where everybody feels safe talking to each other, how are you going to learn? How are you going to grow?

TERP: Is there a freedom of expression crisis in higher education?

Daglish: I hope not. My generation was, “How dare you shut me up, I have a right to speak.” This generation is more, “Leave me alone.” We’re a much more multicultural society than 30 years ago when I was in college, and the only way we’re going to be able to manage this is if we’re talking to each other. We can’t just withdraw into our own little factions. We’re not going to survive as a country.


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