Press Room

The Debate Over Free Speech on College Campuses Continues: Communication Scholars Discuss in a Special Journal Forum

March 8, 2018
New Research
Education, Free Speech

(Washington, DC)—College campuses have long been a hot seat for issues of free speech and freedom of expression. And in the last few years, free speech controversies on campus have continued to heat up. From safe spaces and student protests over controversial speakers, to trigger warnings and teachers being suspended for their tweets, there is much to dissect and debate. The newest issue of a National Communication Association journal, Communication Education, focuses on this topic in a special forum section, “Wicked Problems: Freedom of Speech and Colleges and Universities.”

Here are some highlights:

  • In a stimulus essay to kick off the forum, Dale A. Herbeck of Northeastern University analyzes various controversial campus speech incidents over the years, referencing key court decisions and their relevance today. He also argues that “Communication professors should be strong advocates for the freedom of journalists, scholars, and advocates to present controversial ideas, theories, and findings,” and cautions readers to “be particularly wary of any and all efforts to harass, intimidate, or silence speakers.” 
  • Joseph P. Mazer’s (Clemson University) essay addresses ideological bias in the classroom, particularly in Communication courses. He explains how students’ perceptions of instructor bias may affect their engagement, possibly leading to verbally aggressive responses, and he offers suggestions for educators that might help mitigate aggression while promoting critical thinking and argument.
  • As a follow up, Michael S. Waltman of the University of North Carolina tackles the normalization of hate speech and offers ways Communication instructors can respond using “humanizing pedagogy.” “[They] can be instrumental in creating citizen scholars…that see their communication education as a form of anti-hate discourse,” he writes.  
  • To close the forum, C. Kyle Rudick of the University of Northern Iowa and Deanna P. Dannels of North Carolina State University reflect on the discussion and examine ways the conversation can be continued, drawing on Robert Craig’s seven traditions of the Communication discipline.

NCA further explores the topic of freedom of expression on college campuses in the March issue of Spectra magazine.

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To arrange an interview with the authors, or to receive a copy of Spectra magazine, contact Jenna Sauber at 202-534-1104 or

About the National Communication Association

The National Communication Association (NCA) advances Communication as the discipline that studies all forms, modes, media, and consequences of communication through humanistic, social scientific, and aesthetic inquiry. NCA serves the scholars, teachers, and practitioners who are its members by enabling and supporting their professional interests in research and teaching. Dedicated to fostering and promoting free and ethical communication, NCA promotes the widespread appreciation of the importance of communication in public and private life, the application of competent communication to improve the quality of human life and relationships, and the use of knowledge about communication to solve human problems. For more information, visit, follow us on Twitter at @natcomm, and find us on Facebook at