About the Chair

John Seigenthaler believed in journalism of integrity. Throughout his nationally renowned career, he championed the underdog, shed light on dark places and looked out for the community he served. Seigenthaler passed away on July 11, 2014, but his legacy lives on in the form of the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies at Middle Tennessee State University.

The Chair was instituted in 1986 to honor Seigenthaler’s lifelong commitment to free expression values. Seigenthaler, longtime president, editor and publisher of The Nashville Tennessean, remained chairman emeritus of that newspaper until his death at age 86. He also was the first editorial director of USA TODAY and the first chairman of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University.

The mission of the chair is to promote awareness and understanding of the First Amendment and to support quality journalism in the state through deepening the experiences of students and partnerships with the community. Its main programs include:


The Seigenthaler News Service

Through this program, the chair creates teaching environments in which students can produce work for news media outlets. A summer feature-writing class lead by associate professor and veteran journalist Leon Alligood takes students around the state to work at various newspapers, spending one week in each of the state’s three regions. Students also get hands-on experience providing news media coverage of the Bonnaroo music festival for various outlets.


The Pulitzer Prize lecture series

Each semester, the chair brings in Pulitzer Prize winners to discuss their work. Recent speakers have included:

  • David Fallis, deputy investigative editor for The Washington Post, to discuss “Fatal Force” - his news organization’s unprecedented national police shooting database and yearlong reporting on the issue.
  • Bill Adair, founder of PolitiFact, “A fact-checker’s tales from the 2016 election”
  • Leonard Pitts Jr., columnist, “It’s time to face facts”

Carl BernsteinPulitzer Prize-winning Carl Bernstein, famed for his Watergate coverage in The Washington Post, appeared on the MTSU campus during a 2006 conference celebrating the 20th year of the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies.


First Amendment and free press series

Regular panel discussions and events focusing on First Amendment issues and our democracy. Many speakers sponsored or co-sponsored by the Seigenthaler Chair through the years have included former Vice President Al Gore; Civil Rights Movement and Freedom Riders activists Rev. James Lawson, Rev. C.T. Vivian and Bernard Lafayette; two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis;  former NBC News president Michael Gartner, syndicated columnist Carl Rowan, and Ms. magazine founder Gloria Steinem.

Recent events have included:

  • Free Speech on Campus. A panel discussion focusing free speech, academic freedom and hate speech, featuring Laura Kipnis, a cultural critic and Northwestern University communications professor whose essay in The Chronicle of Education prompted a Title IX investigation; Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director for Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Media and Entertainment, and president of the First Amendment Center.
  • From the Front Lines of Ferguson. A panel of journalists, including St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer / videographer David Carson and USA Today reporter Yamiche Alcindor.
  • Establishing Justice: The New Supreme Court with Nina Totenber, National Public Radio legal affairs correspondent
  • First Amendment and Beyond: An Editorial Cartoonist’s Life with cartoonist Daryl Cagle.

Free speech on campus eventA student asks a question during the Free Speech on Campus event. The chair’s director Deborah Fisher is at the podium, and Joe Cohn with Foundation for Individual Rights in Education listens.

Front lines of FergusonJournalists who covered the violent reactions in the aftermath of the shooting of an 18-year-old man by police in Ferguson, Missouri, discuss the role of news coverage.


The First Amendment Encyclopedia

Encyclopedia coverAn online, searchable encyclopedia with more than 1,500 essays and entries written by scholars covering court decisions and doctrines; people, laws and events; and issues and organizations. The encyclopedia also includes news and insight about current events.