Since 2005, Hunter’s pre-law program has provided students with programs and services that enrich their understanding of the legal profession, and help them gain entry to some of the top law schools in the country. On March 8, 2017, the Kaye Playhouse opened its doors to donors, students, faculty members, and other members of the Hunter community for the annual pre-law fundraiser, an event that supports the pre-law program and allows it to offer the myriad of awards, internships, and enhancement programs that have contributed to student success.
Attendees to the event were treated to a screening of a 2016 documentary, Can We Take a Joke; When Outrage and Comedy Collide, an examination of the plight of comedians on college campuses. The film argues that comedy is a necessary boundary-pusher, and that contemporary sensitivity has shut down open discourse and the sharing of controversial ideas. On hand to provide commentary on the film’s themes were three eminent thinkers and legal experts, each with their own set of unique insights into the problems of outrage and expression: Stanley Fish, Floyd Abrams, and Soraya Chemaly.
Stanley Fish, who led the discussion, is a world renowned legal scholar and literary theorist. He is the author of a wide-ranging and frequently iconoclastic body of criticism and has taught at Johns Hopkins University, Duke, the University of Illinois and Chicago, John Marshall Law School, Cardozo Law School, and Florida International University. He has published more than 200 scholarly books and articles, and is known for his incendiary, incisive social commentary and his expertise on Milton.
Floyd Abrams, currently a professor at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, is one of the leading authorities on the First Amendment and constitutional law. He has appeared before the Supreme Court, and served as the defense attorney for the New York Times in the famous Pentagon Papers case, when the paper published a leaked report about military activities in Vietnam. He has practiced law with Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP for 53 years, and frequently writes and lectures on matters pertaining to free speech. His newest book, The Soul of the First Amendment, will be published in April by the Yale University Press.
Soraya Chemaly, a media critic and activist, brought a particular focus to the role of gender and privilege in conversations about college campuses and free speech. A regular contributor to TIME, Salon, The Huffington Post, and The Guardian, Chemaly’s work centers on freedom of speech, and how violence and misogyny infiltrate and influence public discourse and institutions. She is the director of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project and created the Safety and Free Speech coalition, which works with leading tech companies to reduce violence against women and create more avenues and spaces for intersectional expression.
The discussion, which culminated in a Socratic-style question and answer segment with audience members, continued at a dinner reception.