“Our country needs an outlet to grapple with changing views on the First Amendment and what these mean for America and how our democracy functions.”

Janet Napolitano, President, University of California

The Center explores how the fundamental democratic principles of free speech and civic engagement must adapt to the challenges and opportunities of modern society. Through research, advocacy, debate and discussion, the Center helps ensure that the next generation of leaders is prepared to defend and advance these values.

As college campuses across the country have grappled with questions of free speech and civic engagement, many have experienced a level of activism, controversy and backlash unlike anything seen in this generation. As a result, a wide range of people — from college students to university presidents to leading legal scholars to the president of the United States — have questioned the meaning and role of free speech on college campuses. These questions have sparked a national debate about the intention, scope and application of the First Amendment and challenged long-held views about freedom of expression developed in the wake of the Free Speech Movement born at UC Berkeley.

Cognizant of both the enduring constitutional principles of free speech and the nature of our changing times, the Center focuses on addressing if and how college students’ relationship to the First Amendment has fundamentally shifted from the 1960s and what can be done to restore trust in the value and importance of free speech among college students, other members of university communities and broader society.

In addition to the policy work conducted by members of its Fellowship Program, the Center hosts activities and events aimed at restoring trust in the value and importance of free speech.