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Endowed Chair in Free Speech Announced

Philosophy professor named as inaugural holder

Dr. Aeon Skoble first understood the importance of freedom of expression as an undergraduate. Almost four decades later, those same values are at the heart of the Bridgewater State University philosophy professor’s new prestigious and pioneering role on campus.

Skoble is the inaugural holder of the Bartlett Endowed Chair in Free Speech and Expression. The position is funded through a $2 million gift from BSU’s largest benefactors, Patricia, ’67, and Bruce, ’68, Bartlett

“It’s a big honor, but it’s also a huge step for the university,” said Skoble, who has taught at BSU since 2001. “Medium-sized regional state universities typically don’t get endowed chairs. It’s a big step for the university in terms of raising our role nationally.”

This is BSU’s first endowed chair and third endowed professorship. Endowed positions are unique partly because they are funded in perpetuity by donations. They also shine a light on specific topics and fields.

In his new role, Skoble hopes to build on his work integrating free speech themes into his classes and research. He plans to create a new first-year seminar, bring guest speakers to campus and organize faculty panels.

“I can think of no more important and nobler role for higher education than empowering citizens to responsibly exercise the fundamental right to form and express their own beliefs and opinions on the important issues of our time,” Patricia Bartlett said.  “We are proud that Dr. Skoble, whose life work embodies a belief in free speech as the foundation of liberal, democratic societies, has accepted the position as the first Bartlett Endowed Chair in Free Speech and Expression.”

As an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, Skoble studied scholarly arguments that scientific, technological, and social progress will stagnate without robust freedom of speech. Those theoretical underpinnings informed his subsequent work that includes authoring two books and many other publications.

Freedom of speech, he said, goes hand in hand with the need for civil discussions free from personal attacks. It is an essential part of the classroom, where students and professors should respectfully critique others’ opinions and welcome critiques of their own views, Skoble said.

“You should be able to disagree about an idea while remaining collegial and civil with each other,” he said.

Skoble is grateful for BSU’s commitment to free speech and the Bartletts’ support.

“I deeply appreciate the generosity they’ve shown the university and their confidence in me,” he said.

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