The John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies was instituted in 1986 to honor John Seigenthaler's lifelong commitment to free expression values. Seigenthaler, longtime president, editor and publisher of the Nashville Tennessean, is now chairman emeritus of that newspaper. He was also the first editorial director of USA TODAY and the first chairman of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. He is a leading nationwide spokesman for First Amendment Freedoms.
The purpose of the Chair is to provide programs of excellence centering on the First Amendment's protections of free press and free speech rights for MTSU's College of Mass Communication. To fulfill this purpose, the Chair funds a variety of activities, including distinguished visiting professors of First Amendment studies, visiting lecturers addressing issues of freedom of speech and press, research related to free expression, and seminars and meetings dedicated to expressive freedom.
The Chair has brought to the campus distinguished chair holders such as Wallace Westfeldt, former news produced for NBC and ABC News; John Henry Faulk, humorist and popular CBS radio personality blacklisted during the Red Scare and a hero of free expression rights; Jim Squires, former editor of the Chicago Tribune; author and journalism Wallace Terry; television journalist Sander Vanocur, former U.S. News & World Report Washington bureau chief John Mashek, and Seigenthaler himself.
The Chair has also sponsored extensive research on First Amendment issues, including the 1991 study Free Expression and the American Public (Washington, DC: American Society of Newspaper Editors), conducted by MTSU journalism professor Robert Wyatt. That survey won the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Research About Journalism. Related free-expression projects have also been conducted by the college's Office of Communication Research.
The Chair has funded a series of intensive seminars attracting 50-75 outstanding professors each year from across the nation to debate and discuss topics such as the future of news in a market-oriented society (1992), how changes in news may affect First Amendment protections (1993), how free expression intersects with public opinion (1994), prospects for a general education First Amendment college course (1994), and the changing marketplace for journalism education (1995).
The Chair has also funded outstanding lecturers, including former Atlantic magazine
editor Robert Manning, syndicated columnist Carl Rowan, CNN vice president Bob Furnard,
University of Pennsylvania communication professor Elihu Katz, Washington journalist
Reginald Stuart and University of California-San Diego journalism historian Michael
Schudson. The chair was created under the Tennessee Chairs of Excellence program with
an initial endowment of approximately $1.3 million, an amount that has grown to more
than $3 million.
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