Members of Oklahoma’s Council of Presidents and campus senior leadership came together Wednesday to hear a variety of speakers during the State Regents Forum on Free Speech at the Presbyterian Health Foundation Conference Center.
“Freedom of speech is an issue the State Regents and our public college and university campuses take very seriously,” said Chancellor Glen D. Johnson. “We are pleased to provide a forum to facilitate continued dialogue on this relevant and timely topic among our Council of Presidents and members of the campus senior leadership teams.”
State Regent Andy Lester presented the keynote address. His remarks focused on academic freedom and freedom of speech considerations as they relate to the future of public higher education.
“Commitment to the principles of freedom of expression and academic freedom lies at the very core of our system of higher education,” said Lester. “Fostering the ability of members of the college community to engage in debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of an institution’s educational mission.”
Dr. Lee Bird, vice president for student affairs at Oklahoma State University, provided a session regarding the roles and responsibilities of administrators in responding to issues of free speech and expression not only during crises, but through student programming. Bird also addressed best practices for responding to controversy, preparing students for a culture of free expression and implementing effective policies that allow for debate and dissent.
University of Central Oklahoma President Don Betz presented a case study of UCO’s recent experiences related to Answers in Genesis president and CEO Ken Ham’s scheduled speaking event on the campus. Betz’s presentation outlined the UCO Student Association’s decision to rescind the speaking invitation and the actions taken by UCO administration in response to that decision, related media coverage, and lessons learned.
A panel comprised of campus general counsels and an assistant attorney general provided an overview of legal obligations for colleges and universities with respect to protecting free speech. Panelists included Bob Anthony, general counsel for the State Regents, who served as moderator; Anil Gollahalli, vice president and general counsel for the University of Oklahoma; Steve Stephens, general counsel for Oklahoma State University and the Board of Regents for the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical Colleges; Debra Lyon, general counsel for the Regional University System of Oklahoma; and Matt Stangl, assistant attorney general.