Lecturer Ryan Coonerty named UC Free Speech Fellow

Santa Cruz County supervisor among 11 scholars selected

Portrait of Ryan Coonerty
Ryan Coonerty will use the fellowship to research events nearly 50 years ago when Nazis attempted to march through Skokie, Illinois, a community that had the highest percentage of Holocaust survivors in the country. (Photo by Shmuel Thaler)

Ryan Coonerty, a longtime lecturer in the Legal Studies program at UC Santa Cruz and a member of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, has been named a 2020-21 fellow of UC’s National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement

Coonerty is one of 11 people selected to join the third class of fellows. The fellowship was launched to help educational institutions and communities foster and protect free speech and civic engagement. Among the fellows are students, professors, policymakers, and senior administrators, all of whom are addressing issues of expression, academic freedom, and campus life.

Coonerty, who represents the third district of Santa Cruz County, which includes the campus, will use the year-long fellowship to pursue his project, "Skokie: Free Speech and Community." Nearly 50 years ago, Nazis attempted to march through Skokie, Illinois, a community that, at the time, had the highest percentage of Holocaust survivors in the United States.

"We can see Skokie’s impact to this day in Charlottesville and on college campuses across the country," said Coonerty. "I'm going to research this pivotal event and develop a mock trial teaching module that can be used in different courses."

A graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, Coonerty teaches courses on democracy and constitutional law for the Legal Studies program, as well as a course on anti-Semitism and the law for Jewish Studies. He began teaching at UCSC in 2003 and is also a visiting instructor at the Panetta Institute for Public Policy at California State University, Monterey Bay.

Coonerty is the author of Etched in Stone: Enduring Words from Our Nation's Monuments and coauthor of The Rise of the Naked Economy: How to Benefit from the Changing Workplace. In December, Coonerty delivered a talk entitled, "Local Government: Where Democracy Goes to Live," as part of TEDx Santa Cruz.

The Washington, D.C.-based UC National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement was established to explore "how the fundamental democratic principles of free speech and civic engagement must adapt to the challenges and opportunities of modern society." Its mission is to defend and advance these values through research, advocacy, debate, and discussion.

Fellows spend a year researching the topic of their choice. Each fellow develops educational materials and programs that can serve as a roadmap to safeguarding and encouraging the free exchange of ideas while simultaneously ensuring the institutional values of equity and inclusion. Each fellow will spend time on one of the 10 UC campuses to dialogue with students, faculty, administrators and others to inform their work.