With campus expression issues splashed across the front page and debated in Congressional hearings, higher education has become increasingly embroiled in our nation’s polarized politics and discourse. The perils of this moment — from safeguarding speech and Title VI accountability to the targeted harassment of academics — are only compounded in an election year.


Our sixth annual conference was held virtually on Thursday, April 18, 2024. “Politics, Polarization and Perils on Campus” allowed legal experts, journalists and college and university leaders to explore current challenges and opportunities for learning, activism and engagement during a dynamic half day of discussion. 




8:30 AM PT

Opening Remarks

UC National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement Executive Director Michelle Deutchman and University of California President Michael V. Drake kick off the day with welcome remarks.

8:45 AM PT

Title VI, Expression & the Current Campus Climate

In November, the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued updated guidance on Title VI and opened multiple investigations of colleges and universities under the statute. In light of these developments, questions abound regarding how best to respond to allegations of a hostile educational environment while safeguarding freedom of expression. After remarks from Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon, a panel will focus on the contours of the law and ways to create an inclusive campus environment.

- Sheri Atkinson, UC Davis
- Kiersten Boyce, UC Riverside
- Catherine E. Lhamon, U.S. Department of Education
- Michelle Deutchman, University of California National Center for Free Speech & Civic Engagement

9:35 AM PT

Moving From Debate to Dialogue in Classrooms and Life – Lara Schwartz in Conversation with Carlos Cortés

Two former Center Fellows Lara Schwartz, author of Try to Love the Questions: From Debate to Dialogue in Classrooms and Life, and professor emeritus of history from UC Riverside Carlos Cortés, discuss what free speech means, and offer a framework for productive, truthful discourse that is honest, intellectually rigorous, and respectful.

- Try to Love the Questions: From Debate to Dialogue in Classrooms and Life

10:20 AM PT

“Just Doing My Job”: Targeted Harassment of University Employees

Over the past few years there has been an uptick in harassment and doxxing of university employees from both inside and outside the campus community. This panel includes two university employees who have been targeted because of their work. The discussion will explore the distinction between protected expression and unprotected harassment as well as what steps university leadership can take to support their staff and ensure their safety.

- Patrick R. Grzanka, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
- Mary Anne Franks, George Washington University Law School
- Dania Matos, UC Berkeley
- Moderator: Nina Flores, California State University Long Beach

11:05 AM PT

Lightning Talk: Higher Education Under Fire

Higher education has become a battleground in the culture wars with legislatures across the country targeting diversity, equity and inclusion programs, tenure, shared governance, and what can be taught in the classroom. Join the Center’s National Advisory Board Co-Chairs, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Berkeley School of Law, and Howard Gillman, chancellor at UC Irvine, as they discuss these and other threats to colleges and universities.

11:30 AM PT

Centering Students: Preparing for the 2024 Presidential Election

How do we use elections as a jumping off point for instilling democratic engagement in our students? As campuses prepare for the impending 2024 presidential election, join this panel conversation to discover how the election might be a springboard for surging activism, engagement and learning in the classroom.

- Alex Edgar, UC Berkeley
- Teri Platt, Clark Atlanta University
- Nancy Thomas, American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)
- Moderator: Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times

12:20 PM PT

Closing Remarks

Executive Director Michelle Deutchman wraps up the day's events with brief remarks.


Sheri Atkinson

Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Life, Campus Community and Retention Services

UC Davis

Kiersten Boyce

Associate Vice Chancellor & Chief Compliance Officer

UC Riverside

Erwin Chemerinsky


UC Berkeley School of Law

Carlos Cortés

Professor Emeritus

UC Riverside

Michelle Deutchman

Executive Director

UC National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement

Michael V. Drake


University of California

Alex Edgar

Undergraduate Student

UC Berkeley

Nina Flores

Associate Professor

California State University Long Beach

Mary Anne Franks

Professor in IP, Technology & Civil Rights Law

George Washington University Law School

Howard Gillman


UC Irvine

Patrick R. Grzanka

Divisional Dean for Social Sciences

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Catherine E. Lhamon

Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights

U.S. Department of Education

Dania Matos

Vice Chancellor for the Division of Equity & Inclusion

UC Berkeley

Teri Platt

Associate Professor

Clark Atlanta University

Lara Schwartz

Director, Project on Civic Dialogue

American University

Nancy Thomas

Executive Director, IDHE

American Association of Colleges and Universities

Teresa Watanabe

Staff Writer

Los Angeles Times

Click below to see highlights from last year’s conference,

“#SpeechMatters 2023: Fighting for our Democratic Freedoms.”