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Speech and free expression issues, both on campus and off, are back in the news, not that they ever really leave the headlines. Some recent highlights before we get to the news of this particular blog post:

• The feds threatened and then backed off a plan to strip funding from a UNC/Duke Middle Eastern studies program that had sponsored a conference in March that was full of "severe anti-Israeli bias," according to what U.S. Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) said he heard from some constituents. Critics contend that programs like these are rife with anti-Semitic bias, as this Washington Post story notes; Duke's president issued a full-throated defense of academic freedom here.

• At Georgia Southern University, some students burned a copy of a book written by Latina author and University of Nebraska professor Jennine Capó Crucet after she spoke on campus. This Inside Higher Ed story covers the details (why some students were mad, how the university responded, etc.). The episode attracted the attention of literature and human rights group PEN America, which said book burning isn't an example of free expression but an expression of hostility toward it.

This recent op-ed in the Washington Post by a Colby College professor, citing both examples above, said more recent challenges to free speech are coming from the right, not the left. Aaron Hanlon cites the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's Disinvitation Database, which shows that most partisan opposition to speakers still come from the left but the right has increasingly challenged speakers over the past three years.

• Here in Greensboro, City Council put in place new rules for the once-a-month session that lets the public tell council about whatever's on their minds. Mayor Nancy Vaughan wants to clamp down on some of the more inflammatory rhetoric. Critics said the new rules squash free speech. The News & Record, Yes Weekly, Triad City Beat and the Rhino Times ("Yellers Don’t Like New Rules At City Council Yellfest") have all covered the issue if you want details.

So that's the windup. The pitch is that UNCG's Department of Communication Studies will sponsor a two-day free speech conference later this week. The event, “Finding Expression in Contested Public Spaces: Free Speech Conference 2019," will be held Thursday and Friday in the UNCG Alumni House.

Thursday night's keynote speaker is Eric King Watts, an associate professor of communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. He'll present “Tribalism, Voicelessness and the Problem of Free Speech” at 7 p.m. According to a news release, Watts will "examine the role that post-truth plays in the production and amplification of intensely antagonistic public speech" and "will discuss recent incidents of racialized violence and controversies regarding (anti)immigration policies and practices ... to consider how loud and angry voices are aroused that make democratic politics increasingly voiceless." Light refreshments follow.

On Friday, there will be on-the-hour sessions starting at 8 a.m. until mid-afternoon. Panelists include several UNCG faculty members, UNCG's general counsel, local community members and lots of professors from schools across the country. Click here for a complete schedule and lineup of speakers. Click here to register.

All events are free, just like speech ought to be.

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