On Thursday, April 18, the University held the 22nd Hugo L. Black Lecture on Freedom of Expression, featuring speaker Geoffrey Stone. The talk, entitled “Justice Alito’s First Amendment,” addressed the views and practices of Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito with regard to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Stone is a professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School, where he has been a member of the staff since 1973. The event was open to University students and members of the greater Middletown community.
“We tried to get the word out to local media in Connecticut,” said University Communications Manager of Media and Public Relations Kate Carlisle. “These are annual lectures, and they do attract a large amount of people.”
Stone was chosen to be this year’s speaker by a group of faculty, with input from the Hugo Black Lecture sponsor Leonard Halpert ’44.
“It falls to me as the dean, and I worked with a faculty group who made suggestions and has made suggestions over the years as well as talking to the donor Leonard Halpert, who is the one who has given the money for this over the years,” said Dean of the Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Programs and Professor of History and Medieval Studies Gary Shaw. “So Professor Stone was on the list for some time as a prominent academic—not a lawyer, not a judge.”
Halpert attended the lecture on Thursday with his family. University officials expressed gratitude toward Halpert for making the annual lecture series possible.
“It’s very important to the alumnus, Mr. Halpert, who sponsors this event every year,” Carlisle said. “He’s a lawyer, and he’s very interested in constitutional issues, and this is one way he gives back to Wesleyan, by providing something that really dovetails with his interests as well.”
The choice of a professor rather than a practicing lawyer or judge differs from the selections of past years.
“We’ve sometimes gone for judges, Supreme Court judges when we can, but they’re very hard to get,” Shaw said. “But otherwise, [we look for] leading scholars and others in that category.”
Many students protested last year’s choice of speaker, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. University staff predicted a less dramatic reaction from students and faculty in response to this year’s speaker choice.
“Last year Justice Scalia was the speaker, who of course drew a ton of media,” Carlisle said. “I think this will be a little bit less of a crazy scene, but they are hoping for a good crowd, and there are lots of smart and interested people in the Middletown area who like to go to these things.”
Students also looked forward to comparing Professor Stone’s speech with past Hugo Black lectures.
“There are some people I think who just didn’t listen to Scalia and knew they were going to disagree with all of his points from before he stepped on the stage, and I think this year it’ll be different,” said Sam Ebb ’13 prior to the event. “I’m interested to see what the size of the crowd will be, if it’s comparable to last year. It’ll be interesting to see how the dialogue compares, if it’s less antagonistic than it became last year.”
Ebb is part of a small group of students, faculty, and alumni who were invited to meet with Professor Stone before his lecture.
“Professors are allowed to submit names of students who they feel would be interested for a reception to get to talk to [him], ask and answer some questions, kind of learn a little bit more about the subject area,” Ebb said. “It’s just another way to get people really involved. That’s what I’m really interested in as someone who is potentially interested in going to law school—getting an opportunity to talk to someone who is an expert in the field and hearing his opinions.”
The nominated group of students and faculty had the opportunity to ask Professor Stone questions and share their opinions with him during the University-sponsored dinner.
“Some of the people are faculty who are interested in the law,” Shaw said. “A lot of the people who were invited were invited, I think, because of connections to the legal community, Wesleyan’s intersection with the legal community. And University Relations will make some selections [and] the donor will be there [with] his family.”
Faculty members report that the goal of the Hugo Black Lecture is to foster conversation about the First Amendment.
“The key idea is to keep the views about freedom of expression essential in the culture of the United States and its relationship to the Constitution,” Shaw said. “So the goals have always been to make that prominent. And that’s why we like to have a turnout; we like to have big names. But at the end of the day you just want students to be able to come out and hear about these issues more widely.”