Through the Pre-read program, started by President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 five years ago, incoming freshmen receive a copy of a selected book that introduces students to the University’s intellectual culture and encourages reflection and discussion. For the first time in the program’s history, this year’s Pre-read, “Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech,” will be distributed to all undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and interested staff.
“Speak Freely,” written by University politics professor Keith Whittington, defends a conception of free speech and its essential role on campuses. In addition to providing copies to the University community, Eisgruber and Whittington have compiled an annotated bibliography on free speech to introduce students to the scholarly debate. This month, Whittington, Eisgruber, and other faculty members will host an assembly and discussion on the book for the Class of 2022.
On Sept. 1, an email from Housing Operations on behalf of the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students informed sophomores, juniors, and seniors that Student Agencies would enter undergraduate dorms between Sept. 4 and Sept. 6 between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. to distribute copies of the Pre-read. The official move-in day for sophomores and upperclassmen is Sept. 8.
“I didn’t think it was a huge deal,” said Ethan Sterenfeld ’20, who moved in early through a religious organization. “I could probably trust students not to steal stuff from rooms.”
On Sept. 6, Housing Operations sent another email to say that the book would no longer be delivered to individual dorms. Instead, the email said, it would be delivered to the residential colleges for sophomores and to academic departments for juniors and seniors.
“Distributing the Pre-reads through the residential colleges and academic departments turned out to be a more efficient and less complicated approach, so that’s the route we went,” explained Dan Day, assistant vice president for communications.
On Sept. 7, Eisgruber sent emails to sophomores, juniors, and seniors reminding them where they can pick up a copy of the Pre-read.
“The free exchange of ideas is an essential value of this University, and our faculty has adopted a strong Statement on Freedom of Expression contained in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities,” he wrote. “In recent years, however, some pundits and politicians have been telling a bleak story about what is happening on college campuses across the nation. I believe that these caricatures do not reflect the values practiced on campuses like our own.”
Abbie Minard ’20, a peer academic advisor in Butler College received a copy in advance in order to lead an hour-long discussion of the book with freshmen. She said that the “Speak Freely” is a good academic introduction to the University.
“It’s going to get people talking,” she said. “It won't be hard to engage them.”
She added that unlike her class’s Pre-read, “Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality,” this year’s Pre-read is about university life and the purpose of the university.
“It’s applicable to all students,” Minard said, adding that she is interested to see if people agree with the argument set forth in “Speak Freely.”
Sterenfeld is taking Whittington’s class, POL 423: Seminar in American Politics — Free Speech and the Law, this semester. The course focuses on the theory, law, and politics of freedom of speech within the context of the U.S. constitutional system.
“I’ll have to say that I’ve read his book,” he said.