Speaker Biographies

Robert M. O’Neil

Robert M. O’Neil became founding director of The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression in August, 1990, after serving five years as president of the University of Virginia. He continues as a member of the University’s law faculty, teaching courses in constitutional law of free speech and church and state, first amendment and the arts, and a new course entitled “Free Speech in Cyberspace,” as a University professor.

After serving as law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr., O’Neil began his teaching career in 1963 at the University of California Law School at Berkley, where he chaired the Academic Senate Committee on Academic Freedom.

His administrative career began as provost of the University of Cincinnati in the early 1970s. He was vice president of Indiana University for the Bloomington Campus, and later president of the statewide University of Wisconsin before coming to Virginia. He taught law at each institution.

In 1990 he chaired the National Association of the State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, serving also on the executive committee of the Association of American Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, serving also on the executive committee of the Association of American Universities, and the boards of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Educational Testing Service and the Johnson Foundation.

He now serves as trustee or director of the Commonwealth Fund, the Fort James Corporation, Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA), and the Media Institute. He is a member of the American Bar Association Conference Group of Lawyers and Media Representatives, and the editorial board of the American Bar Association’s Human Rights Journal.

In Virginia he serves as president of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government and as chairman of WVPT Public Television. Until last June, he chaired Committee A (Academic Freedom and Tenure) of the American Association of University Professors, of which he was general counsel in 1970-72 and again in 1990-92.

He is author of several books, including Free Speech: Responsible Communication Under the Law, The Rights of Public Employees (second edition, 1993), Classrooms in the Crossfire (1981), and Free Speech in the College Community (1997), as well as many articles in law reviews and other journals.

A native of Boston, O’Neil holds three degrees from Harvard and honorary degrees from Beloit College and Indiana University. His wife, the former Karen Elson, is a secondary school English teacher and department chair at the St. Anne’s Belfield School in Charlottesville. Their children are Elizabeth, a graduate of Duke and Stanford; Peter, a graduate of Berkeley; David a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School; and Benjamin, a graduate of the University of Virginia.

Alan Charles Kors

Alan Charles Kors graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1964, and he received his M.A. (1965) and Ph.D. (1968) from Harvard University, in European History. Kors has taught at the University of Pennsylvania since 1968, where he is now a full professor of History. At Penn, Kors cofounded the Van Pelt College House, the university’s first residential college house, where he lived for eight years, first as faculty fellow and then as faculty housemaster. It was the first program at Penn to achieve the integration of faculty, graduate students and undergraduates, men and women, and it was a microcosm of the fullest diversity, of all kinds, at the university. His colleagues at Penn elected him four times to University and School Committees on Academic Freedom and Responsibility. He teaches lecture courses and seminars on European intellectual history, specializing in the conceptual revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries. He has received two awards, the Lindback Foundation Award, and the Ira Abrams Memorial Award, for distinguished college teaching, and numerous awards for defense of academic freedom.

Kors has written extensively on the 17th and 18th centuries, and he currently is editor-in-chief of the Oxford University Press Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment, an international project that will be published in four volumes by 2002. In May 1997, he conducted a seminar on Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes at the University of Paris, in France. He also has made three series of taped courses for The Teaching Company on “The Birth of the Modern Mind.”

Kors has fought for academic freedom since his arrival in the academic world, and in recent times this has led him into national prominence as a critic of political correctness. He has written and lectured on the assault upon liberty and dignity in academic life, speaking at scores of universities, conferences, and symposia, and writing in The Wall Street Journal, Society, The Pennsylvania Gazette, and the anthology edited by Howard Dickman, The Imperiled Academy. In the spring of 1993, he defended Eden Jacobowitz in the infamous “water buffalo case” at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1998 Kors coauthored, with Harvey A. Silverglate, The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses.