Guest Blog: An Exploration of Free Speech and Civility at Duke

When we first launched this blog, we hoped we might invite colleagues whom we admire and respect to contribute on occasion. We’re delighted to share with you today a guest essay by Michael J. Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations at Duke University. We invited him to write because we saw that Duke is doing some interesting programming to explore issues around freedom of speech and climate more thoughtfully, when the campus is not responding to an incident. Every campus is grappling with free expression issues in some fashion, and we thought colleagues might appreciate some perspective from Mike on this important topic.

Michael J. Schoenfeld

It is perhaps a great irony that one of the most difficult subjects for us to talk about is free speech, particularly the version that is the subject of attention on campus, in the media and across the internet. That colleges and universities, and the communicators at them, should have such a challenge conveying compelling messages about this fundamental standard is perhaps not surprising:

  • Activists on the right and left, and every point in between, have weaponized freedom of speech by staking out the most extreme positions, and painting any opposition to their position as wrong, dangerous and even evil. Continue reading

Compelling Leadership Voices of 2017

In our work with higher education leaders, we help college presidents and other leaders identify compelling topics and make their voices heard through op-eds, speeches and written communications. Doing so benefits their institution, contributes to the sector, and can influence both policy and public opinion in powerful ways. And given the coarsened nature of our public dialogue, these carefully considered perspectives become even more important.

As we noted in our recent essay about trends for Inside Higher Ed, the past year saw a number of leaders speaking up strongly on relevant issues. We reviewed the past year’s worth of presidential communications, and we offer below those contributions we thought were among the most interesting and impactful.

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Saddle Up: 7 Trends Coming in 2018

In what is becoming an annual exercise, Lisa and I reviewed the past year of trends collected in The Scan to forecast what might be coming in 2018. Our resulting essay appears in Inside Higher Ed today. While the developments affecting higher education are sobering, we also offer practical advice for action steps college and university leaders can take to get ahead of the curve. We welcome your thoughts and additions to our list.

Commemorating a Complicated Moment in History

A temporary piece by Ogrydziak Prillinger Architects called Nuclear Thresholds commemorates the 75th anniversary of the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Photo by Richard Barnes

This fall the University of Chicago, together with Argonne National Laboratory, celebrated the 75th anniversary of the first self-sustained nuclear reaction. UChicago has a reputation for producing world-changing ideas, and it was fitting to honor the contributions of the scientists whose major scientific discovery shaped human history in profound ways. Yet, at a time of renewed international nuclear tensions, this could not be purely a moment of celebration—it also required serious reflection.

The range of events, stories, media coverage, and multi-media content that UChicago created is a wonderful case study in how to take a single idea, explore it from multiple directions, and have it reach a huge audience with messaging that reinforces the university’s intellectual brand.

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Photography: Stories, Community, Memory


Holocaust survivor Bertha Frank at her home Thursday, March 9, 2017. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Julie and I often counsel college and university clients about the powerful storytelling impact of photography, hoping to encourage a greater use of imagery in institutional communications portfolios. We know it can be a challenge in environments with constrained resources. Yet riveting photographs—those that capture an authentic tone and very “real” experience—can create an evocative narrative in an instant, and even build a shared sense of community.

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