Gene Policinski, a nationally-renowned journalist and First Amendment expert, spoke with students and community members at the University of North Georgia's Gainesville and Dahlonega campuses Feb. 25, part of a three-day visit sponsored by the university's Department of Political Science & International Affairs and the Department of Communication, Media & Journalism.
Policinski told a class of journalism students that the First Amendment protections on speech, press, religion, petition, and assembly apply even when many may disagree with the message or dislike the messengers, as upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as recently as 2011.
"In this instance, the opinion said that in our tradition of free speech and in the interest of the reason we have this free speech – which is a robust and political debate – the government may not stop it," he said. "Even when it brings pain or is an offensive message to many, you may not stop the speaker from speaking."
The departments partnered with Pi Sigma Alpha political science honor society, the UNG Debate, Forensics, and Interpretation Team, the Political Science Student Association, and The Vanguard student newspaper to offer students and community members the opportunity to learn from Policinski's experiences spending 30 years in journalism. The visit, which includes events Feb. 26 and 27, are to celebrate UNG's addition of a four-year communications program and promote the First Amendment.
"His expertise I think sticks with the students and sinks in with them more so than just reading it in a book or me talking about it in class," said Ron Martz, UNG history and journalism instructor and former journalist. "To have someone come in from the outside and talk about the issues related to the First Amendment and how it is something everyone in the country should be aware of and involved in, I think it really hits home for the students."
Policinski is a senior executive with the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to free press, free speech, and free spirit for all people. He is chief operating officer of the Forum's Newseum Institute, a museum of news that is one of Washington, D.C.'s top attractions. He also directs the Forum's Diversity Institute and its First Amendment Center, initiatives founded to recruit and train a diverse journalistic workforce and to explore issues surrounding the five First Amendment freedoms.
Policinski has held many leadership positions in newspapers, radio, television, and online operations. He was a founding editor at USA TODAY and spent time directing the paper's Washington, "Page One," and sports sections. He co-writes the nationally-distributed column "Inside the First Amendment," and was the executive producer of the Emmy award-winning public television program "Speaking Freely." A graduate of Ball State University, Policinski is an adjunct professor at Winthrop University and an adviser to the Institute for Media, Culture, and Ethics at Bellarmine University.
"Gene Policinski's visit is providing an excellent opportunity for us to work more closely with our colleagues in the Department of Communication and with several terrific student organizations," said Dr. Dlynn Williams, head of the Department of Political Science & International Affairs. "We are very pleased to once again be involved in a university-wide effort to promote First Amendment appreciation and awareness. That's something that's dear to the heart of every political scientist."
Policinski's visit will continue Wednesday, Feb. 26 when he will attend the noon meeting and "Crossfire" discussion of the UNG Political Science Student Association in the lobby of Young Hall on the Dahlonega Campus. They will be discussing the First Amendment, and the meeting is open to the public. That evening, Policinski will moderate the first UNG Great Political Ideology Showdown, sponsored by the UNG Debate, Forensics, and Interpretation Team. This will be a debate between College Democrats, College Republicans, and Young Americans for Liberty covering such political issues as immigration, minimum wage, and the government's ability to limit free speech, among other topics. Representatives from each organization will spar and then field questions about their ideological perspectives on current events from audience members. The event begins at 7 p.m. in the Hoag Student Center Auditorium.
Policinski's visit to UNG will wrap up in Gainesville on the morning of Feb. 27, when he will meet with several faculty members from the Departments of Communication, Media & Journalism and Political Science & International Affairs.