Free Speech at UF – A brief history

As the state’s flagship institution of higher learning, the University of Florida has a long and rich history of encouraging the free exchange of ideas, including welcoming controversial speakers.

In recent decades, this tradition dates back to the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. Student protests on the steps of the administration building, Tigert Hall, and elsewhere on campus – usually peaceful, sometimes not – were common. Jane Fonda’s campus speaking engagement in 1971 was followed by visits from the Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Betty Shabazz, widow of Malcolm X.

In 1967, UF Student Government created the ACCENT Speaker’s Bureau and launched a tradition of hosting thought leaders representing virtually every viewpoint imaginable. Notable guests over the past 50 years include Ann Coulter, Noam Chomsky, Ben Shapiro, Mikhail Gorbachev, Oliver North, Pat Buchanan, Bill Clinton, Ruth Westheimer and Dr. Jack Kevorkian, to name just a few.

In the 1970s, UF became the home of the Florida Freedom of Information Clearinghouse, later renamed the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, now home to some of the nation’s foremost experts on the First Amendment.

UF continues to embrace its role as a place where people from all walks of life come to debate, agree or disagree and express themselves without fear of censorship or reprisal.

As an institution of higher education, we recognize that the pursuit of knowledge and true intellectual growth begin with questioning our own beliefs and challenging the status quo while being respectful of those whose ideas differ from our own. 

That is the bedrock of civil, democratic society. At the University of Florida, we are proud to support it.