Called “Rising to the Challenges of the 21st Century,” the Association of American Publishers' annual meeting, held Tuesday at NYU’s Kimmel Center, offered a program focused on a short list of the industry’s toughest problems.
A collection of speakers addressed the suppression of free speech in public schools, efforts to protect intellectual property from global digital pirates, and displayed educational software crafted in the form of social media.
Catherine Ross, a professor of law at George Washington University and author of Lessons in Censorship: How Schools and Courts Subvert Students' First Amendment Rights (Harvard University Press, 2015), grabbed the room’s attention when she said free speech is under attack in schools.
“The culture of free speech is not being passed on to a new generation of students,” she declared, referring specifically to public schools. From so-called trigger warnings issued in college literature classes, to the illegal censorship of student publications, Ross said “all is not well." She went on: "We’re not becoming the Russians or the Chinese, but there are reasons to be concerned."
Ross, along with the AAP membership, was particularly exasperated by the rise of so-called “free speech zones” in schools—areas established in remote places in a school by administrators where students can go and say what they wish. Calling the effort “topsy turvy," Ross noted that free speech cannot be arbitrarily (and illegally) curbed in this fashion, "Free speech is supposed to be from sea to shining sea.”
Part of the problem, she said, are legal precedents that date to a series of court rulings from the 1960s that placed some limits on free speech in public schools. Through combinations of ignorance of the law as well as disdain for free speech principals, public school administrators often illegally attempt to control student speech both on and off campus. Calling school administrators some of the worst First Amendment offenders, Ross said administrators have suspended students for exercising their lawful rights to criticize a teacher, a coach or a principal, or even for writing poetry or plays. Parents often have to resort to litigation to prevent unjust suspensions.
What Ross would like to see schools start doing is "teaching students how to speak to each other," as opposed to "punishing them for offending speech.” She also called on communities to empower "free speech advocates" who can push for "a different climate in the schools," rather than allowing censors to set the agenda.
Turning to copyright and piracy, Daniel H. Marti, U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, also known as the country's "IP czar," reported on what he had been doing, and had witnessed, during his first year on the job. (He was selected for the position in the summer of 2014 and confirmed 92-0 by the Senate a year ago.)
With a presidential election near, Marti said his primary duties are to introduce his staff to the industry, so "publishers know who to talk with” after a new administration takes office. He is also working on a joint strategic plan on IP, a study required to be delivered every three years, that gives a comphrehensive overview of how the office plans to work towards IP protection and enforcement on a global scale. The plan must be submitted to the President and Congress this summer, and Marti asked for input and comments from the industry.
Finally Eric Mazur, a physics professor at Harvard, who developed a software platform called Perusall.com, explained how he saw this new technology transforming the classroom experience.
Mazur said he hopes Perusall will change students' experiences with the traditional classroom lecture--what he calls the "regurgitation" of information--and allow them to engage more effectively with the class materials outside the classroom. Using Perusall, students can read class texts online, comment on passages they don’t understand, and receive responses and answers from other classmates. Perusall essentially turns the online textbook into a Facebook-like experience, Mazur said. And, according to Mazur's research, Perusall significantly improves learning by encouraging students to talk to each other, and read the assigned texts.
Closing the organizational business of the annual meetings, AAP president and CEO Tom Allen noted that outgoing AAP chair, HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray will be succeeded by Youngsuk YS Chi, chairman, Elsevier. In addition Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle will succeed YS Chi as AAP vice-chair.