UChicago appoints leaders for new forum for free inquiry and expression

University of Chicago Forum for Free Inquiry and Expression will launch this fall

The University of Chicago was founded upon the idea that academic freedom and freedom of expression are essential for the University’s work of education and discovery. For the past 130-plus years, the University has upheld those principles, becoming a leading advocate for the advancement of free expression beyond UChicago, including establishing the Chicago Principles, which have been adopted by universities and colleges across the country.

To further deepen its engagement on a wide range of issues related to free inquiry and expression, the University will launch the University of Chicago Forum for Free Inquiry and Expression this fall. In a Feb. 27 email to the UChicago community, President Paul Alivisatos announced the appointment of Tom Ginsburg, the Leo Spitz Distinguished Service Professor of International Law, as the Forum’s inaugural faculty director. Tony Banout will serve as its inaugural executive director.

The Forum is a result of faculty discussions to develop ambitious ways to support and advance the longstanding institutional priority of free expression. Further details about the Forum’s priorities and initiatives will be communicated when it launches this fall.

“While our shared commitment to free inquiry and expression is vital to our university’s culture, the integrity of its practice should never be taken for granted,” Alivisatos wrote. “Each successive generation of faculty, students and staff have taken on the necessary, often difficult work of giving these principles meaning throughout the University’s history. Today, I’m pleased to announce the appointment of two leaders who will play an important role in advancing them for our current age.”

Ginsburg has deep expertise in comparative and international law, with a particular focus on how democracies and constitutions function and flourish. Prior to joining the University’s faculty in 2008, he held myriad roles consulting and providing legal advice to international organizations, development agencies and governments, including the Iran–United States Claims Tribunal. In addition to his work at the University, he serves as co-director of the Comparative Constitutions Project and is a research professor at the American Bar Foundation. His publications have been broadly recognized with awards from the American Society for International Law, the International Society of Constitutional Law and the American Political Science Association.

“Like many other societies, the United States is grappling with issues related to free expression, including misinformation, a polarized media environment and a rising censoriousness,” Ginsburg said. “We want the Forum to build on the University’s traditions as the place for cutting-edge thinking to address today’s challenges, and also provide opportunities for students to deepen their own practice of discussing tough topics.”

Banout will become the Forum’s inaugural executive director, effective April 3. As senior vice president for Interfaith America, he guided the development of strategies and programs devoted to democratic discourse and civil conversation in and beyond higher education. Banout has spoken and published widely on free expression, constructive engagement of difference and the civic relevance of religious diversity. A lifelong advocate for ideological diversity and inclusion in academia, he serves as a board member at Heterodox Academy. Banout earned his Ph.D. from UChicago’s Divinity School, where he was a Martin Marty Center Junior Fellow and Provost Dissertation Fellow.

“The full and free exchange of ideas is essential to the intellectual life of any thriving university and to the vitality of a healthy democracy,” Banout said. “At a time in which such exchange is under threat from multiple angles, I am honored to join the University of Chicago as the inaugural executive director of the Forum. I look forward to advancing free inquiry and expression within and beyond UChicago.”

Learn more about the University’s commitment to free expression and open discourse on the Free Expression website.