University of Chicago Forum for Free Inquiry and Expression to launch with Oct. 5-6 events

Discussions with leading thinkers to examine issues across academia and society

The University of Chicago was founded in 1890 upon the idea that freedom of expression is vitally important to discovery and rigorous scholarly inquiry. For generations, UChicago community members have taken on the challenging work of upholding this vital academic principle as an essential part of UChicago culture, solidifying the University as a leading global advocate for the advancement of free expression.

This fall, the University of Chicago will build upon its historic commitment to free expression by launching the Forum for Free Inquiry and Expression, which aims to promote the understanding, practice and advancement of free and open discourse throughout the University and beyond, while addressing present-day challenges.

A two-day event at the David Rubenstein Forum on Oct. 5-6 will celebrate the opening of the Forum on Free Inquiry and Expression. It will feature a series of intellectual discussions among leading thinkers across diverse fields who will examine issues around free expression—at UChicago and across academia and society more broadly. All the daytime events will be webcast on the Chicago Forum website.

“The University’s distinctive culture is built upon its commitment to advancing free expression and free inquiry. In practice, this means much more than hosting controversial speakers on our campus. The rigorous practice of these principles plays an important role in our institutional mission to create new knowledge and provide a transformative education to students,” said President Paul Alivisatos. “The Chicago Forum will serve to convene and amplify many of the vital efforts relevant to this core aspect of our institutional culture, and its launch promises to be a wonderful place to start that work.”

The Chicago Forum grew out of faculty discussions aimed at developing ambitious ways to support and advance UChicago’s longstanding commitment to free expression. It also builds upon notable UChicago leadership on the topic, including the Chicago Principles, which have been adopted by universities and colleges across the country.

The Chicago Forum’s inaugural leaders, faculty director Prof. Tom Ginsburg and executive director Tony Banout, hope the launch events showcase the Forum’s role in nurturing an environment of deep thinking through civil conversation.

“Our society is awash in speech, but we are forgetting how to listen. As we face massive challenges in science, society and culture, universities have to take the lead in cultivating environments of deeper exchange,” said Ginsburg, the Leo Spitz Distinguished Service Professor of International Law, who is a renowned legal scholar with deep expertise in comparative and international law. “We hope the Chicago Forum will be a model for diagnosing problems, for cultivating practice toward solutions and demonstrating the power of dialogue across difference.”

“There is no better time to advance our university’s culture of free and open discourse, and to share our heritage and values with the wider world.” said Banout, PhD’12, a lifelong advocate for ideological diversity and inclusion in academia. “I’m honored to serve as executive director of the Chicago Forum and thrilled about our upcoming launch.”

The two-day Chicago Forum event will begin Oct. 5, with opening remarks from Alivisatos and Ginsburg. Alivisatos will moderate a panel discussion at 4 p.m. featuring renowned scholars Jonathan Haidt, Nadine Strossen, and UChicago’s Cathy Cohen, along with the past chair of the American Association of Colleges and Universities and president of Hollins University Mary Dana Hinton, sharing perspectives on the state of free expression on college campuses. That evening, Assoc. Prof. Agnes Callard will host a special “Night Owls” philosophical discussion with The New York Times’ Ross Douthat, in honor of the Chicago Forum’s launch, beginning at 9 p.m. in Mandel Hall (Night Owls will not be webcast).

On Oct. 6, the Chicago Forum will host a day of discussions, beginning at 9 a.m., which will investigate free expression across a number of topics—ranging from AI and social media to political discourse to the arts. The schedule includes:

  • 9 a.m.: Rising Illiberalisms: Ginsburg will join New York Times columnist David French, American Library Association leader Tracie Hall, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel and Prof. Aziz Huq for a discussion of the increasing intolerance of dissent and ideological difference from both ends of the socio-political spectrum
  • 10:40 a.m. The Challenges of Rapid Technological Change: Social Media and AI: Banout will lead a scholarly discussion with renowned philosopher Joshua Cohen, UChicago Profs. Genevieve Lakier and Nick Feamster, and Harvard Kennedy School Fellow Brandi Dexter-Collins examining social media’s impact on communication and society
  • 12:15 p.m. The Political State of Affairs: Dysfunction or Hope? David Axelrod will talk with former Senators Heidi Heitkamp (director of UChicago’s Institute of Politics) and Richard Burr about their experiences working across the aisle and their perspectives on the current state of U.S. politics
  • 2:10 p.m. Art, Friction, and Free Expression: David M. Rubenstein, chair of the University of Chicago Board of Trustees, will host a conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and playwright Ayad Akhtar
  • 3:40 p.m. Universities and the Wider World: Prof. Geoffrey Stone will lead a discussion with Ben Wizner of the ACLU, Alex Morey of FIRE, and Heterodox Academy board member and co-president of Harvard’s Council on Academic Freedom Jeffrey Flier about what universities can and should do to improve free expression within and beyond their campus gates

Beginning Oct. 6, the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at UChicago will host a new exhibition in honor of the launch of the Chicago Forum. Entitled ‘Freedom’s Muse,” it will explore the intersection of art and freedom of expression. Learn more about the exhibition, which runs through Dec. 10, at the Logan Center website.

These are first of many programs planned for the Chicago Forum in the upcoming academic year. Learn more about the Forum, and register to attend the launch events in person or via webcast, on its new website.

—The University of Chicago is grateful for the leadership support provided by Kenneth C. Griffin and the Zell Family Foundation, as well as the generous contribution by the Yagan Family Foundation.