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Syracuse University launches cross-college First Amendment Scholars Program
Syracuse University launches cross-college First Amendment Scholars ProgramSeptember 07, 2007Rob Enslinrmenslin@syr.edu
The College of Arts and Sciences, the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Renee Crown University Honors Program have announced the establishment of the First Amendment Scholars Program at Syracuse University. The program, created in conjunction with the opening of Newhouse III, affirms the shared values and close collaboration of the three academic units and is a tribute to Newhouse Dean David Rubin’s strong advocacy of liberal education, says Cathryn R. Newton, dean of The College of Arts and Sciences.
Made possible by a gift to Arts and Sciences expressly for this purpose, the First Amendment Scholars Program is designed to promote exploration of the importance and complexity of Freedom of Speech. Each semester, four or more Honors Program students who are dually enrolled in Arts and Sciences and Newhouse will be appointed First Amendment Scholars. This fall’s cohort comprises junior magazine journalism/political science major Zac Cummings, senior television, radio, and film/Spanish/policy studies major Jennifer Feden, junior magazine journalism/policy studies major Kimberly Harris, and senior television, radio, and film/international relations major Pearly Leung. On Sept. 19, these scholars will jointly unveil a video display project, installed on the First Amendment Wall of Newhouse III, containing thoughtful expressions about free speech from a broad cross section of the Syracuse community.
“The College has initiated this exhibition on Freedom of Speech in honor of Dean Rubin’s outstanding leadership of the Newhouse School and his steadfast collaboration with Arts and Sciences and Honors in pursuit of our common objectives,” says Newton. “These video displays, to be renewed each semester in collaboration with Newhouse’s Tully Center for Free Speech, will support our shared intention to `keep debate alive.'” Newton and Rubin, who have 26 years of decanal leadership between them, are stepping down from their respective posts on June 30, 2008.
“This project is a sign of the deep respect and affection we have for one another,” Rubin says of Newton. “I have always viewed Cathryn Newton as a sympathetic, astute and cooperative partner and Arts and Sciences as a key sister school for our students, given that they take three-quarters of their course work there. It’s important to me and to my successor that the relationship with Arts and Sciences remains strong.”
Described by Honors director Samuel Gorovitz as “a living exhibition about a subject that is central to our mission as a university,” the video display will stimulate discussion about the meaning of free speech. Kimberly Harris, a WellsLink and Coronat Scholar from Aurora, Ill., hopes the installation will encourage people to hold free speech in higher regard, allowing them to see the impact it has on their everyday lives. “I hope this video project helps viewers to think more broadly, passionately and personally about the rights guaranteed to them and to all people of the United States, through the First Amendment and the United States Constitution,” she says.
Coronat Scholar and Orientation Leader Jennifer Feden, of Southampton, Pa., also envisions the project addressing misconceptions about the First Amendment, which is designed to protect speech that some people find offensive. “The First Amendment only prevents the government from limiting free speech. This does not mean that limits to free speech do not exist in our society,” she says, citing actor Isaiah Washington’s recent firing from “Grey’s Anatomy” over a highly publicized anti-gay slur. “People are free to speak their minds, even when doing so might emotionally harm others, but they are not free to do so in a way that directly endangers others. For example, the government could stop a rally that is going to lead directly to an attack on a given group of people.”
Adds Zac Cummings, an OrangeSeeds member from Atkinson, N.H.: “The biggest misconception is that the First Amendment protects people in the private arena. In reality, it only protects our rights from the government, not from the workplace or other private institutions.”
Rubin says the First Amendment video project had been percolating for a while, when a dual major from the Class of ’53 helped make it a reality by supporting the project. Of the Arts and Sciences contribution, Rubin notes, “It’s unusual that one school would support another school specifically to establish something within a new building. It’s not that schools don’t contribute in various ways to other schools; they just don’t usually do it in this elegant and impressive way.”
Like Rubin, Gorovitz is happy that the project encourages students to engage with the city. “Our scholars have already started going to many locations — such as the state fair, the regional market, the airport — to collect hours of interviews,” he says. “We will then work with Barbara Fought, director of the Tully Center, to produce the finished product, which will air in the Newhouse III atrium, along with other video projects, sustaining a climate of discussion and debate.”
“Most people don’t bother to think about our constitutional rights and what they allow us to do,” says Pearly Leung, a Fuji Junior Filmmaker of the Year from West Windsor, N.J. “Maybe this video can be a small reminder of that.”
For more information about the First Amendment Scholars Program, contact the Renee Crown University Honors Program, which is administered by The College of Arts and Sciences, at (315) 443-2759.