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Pop-up panel brings students, faculty together to talk about free speech

A Free Speech On Campus pop-up panel was hosted this past Wednesday Sept. 12, in the Bangor Room of the Memorial Union. Organized by the Rising Tide Center and the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies program, the panel was an hour-long discussion between students and faculty on free speech, its personal value and role on campus.

Assistant Vice President and Senior Associate Dean Kenda Scheele initiated the conversation.

As an attorney, Scheele brought her legal perspective to the conversation, discussing The University of Maine’s requirements as a public school to adhere to values of free speech. Members of student organizations are offered free tabeling in the Memorial Union, while outside organizations are required to pay $5 per day.

Other regulations regarding free speech on campus include not being allowed to tape posters on campus property outside of some designated locations, as well as not being able to leave flyers underneath car windshield wipers.

Other faculty at the event talked about the history and definition of free speech. Dr. Richard Powell, a professor of political science and director of the Cohen Institute for Leadership and Public Service, feels that it is important to distinguish between free speech in private and public universities.

“The University of Maine is a public school and governed by the first amendment,” said Powell. “Private [schools] do not face quite the same set of legal context.”

Dr. Paul Grosswiler was the third person to speak at this panel. A teacher and chair of the Communications and Journalism Department, Grosswiler is teaching a class this year on freedom of expression.

Grosswiler started his part of the discussion with a definition of free speech from Timothy C. Shiell’s book Campus Hate Speech on Trial: “If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought—not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”

Kirsten Daley, an anthropology student at UMaine and an aspiring civil rights educator and activist, also spoke at the pop-up panel. Daley discussed her own experiences and frustrations regarding some types of free speech here on campus.

“We are paying for this experience and to go here and we are paying to have our humanity disrespected,” Daley said.

Daley used the example of a notorious man who comes to campus every year and stands on the UMaine Mall for days to spread his controversial views on social issues.

Following this period of directed discussion, the floor was opened up for members of the audience to ask questions and share their views. These questions tended to focus on UMaine action and policy regarding protection of students’ first amendment rights.

This event was part of a series of pop-up panels this year covering a wide range of topics pertinent to the UMaine community. The next panel is in the planning stages. These discussions are always free and open to the public.

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