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Protesters to get their say

Free speech forum set for Thursday, Jan. 17, at 3:30 p.m.

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In October, Meredith College campus police clamped down on demonstrators at a speech by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, confiscating their anti-war, anti-Bush leaflets and exiling them to a distant "free speech zone," where it was unlikely students would encounter them. (See "Muzzled at Meredith," Nov. 7, 2007.)

In response, Professor Michael McElreath, sponsor of the school's History and Politics Club, has invited the protesters to speak at a forum, Thursday, Jan. 17, at 3:30 p.m. at Kresge Auditorium. Meredith College President Maureen Hartford and the head of campus police have also been invited to attend.

"As an academic and a person who believes in a free and open exchange of ideas, it's troubling that the campus is not open to others with different opinions," said McElreath, who teaches courses in U.S. history and the Civil Rights movement. "I'd like to know the rationale about the way in which the group was handled. It's an opportunity to find out what happened."

The forum will be framed as a conversation, not only about the demonstrators' viewpoints, but also more overarching issues of free speech.

"We'll pose questions to the students," McElreath said. "Are these ideas that should be expressed on campus? How wide of a scope should there be for a free exchange of ideas?"

Originally known as Baptist's University for Women, Meredith is a private women's college in Raleigh with an enrollment of more than 2,100 students. In 1997, it severed its ties to the N.C. Baptist State Convention, saying the action would protect the college's academic freedom from increasing conservatism in the Baptist leadership, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

"We're not afraid of ideas here," McElreath said. "I don't think our students need protected from alternative points of view."

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