President Bruce Benson's newsletter

A message from President Bruce Benson

September 2017

Higher education has an obligation not only to reflect our broader society and address its pressing issues, but also to be a forum where ideas are debated and discussed. In that crucible, the best ideas rise to the top and knowledge is advanced.

Some maintain that colleges and universities aren’t as open to competing ideas as we claim, but I disagree. I would point to one vibrant example that reflects our broader view of CU’s role as a marketplace of ideas, as well as our commitment to diversity in all its forms.

At our Boulder campus, we embrace those notions with our successful Center for Western Civilization, Thought and Policy. It promotes dialogue and the open exchange of ideas. Intellectual diversity is a key part of the overall diversity that CU values. The center started two years ago when we merged our Western Civilization program (started in 2006) with the Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy (started in 2012). The combined entity aims to add diversity of political thought to a place not typically known for it.

Our job is to teach students how to think, not what to think, and the program is one of many ways we do that at CU.

The original Western Civilization program paved the way for our efforts. It was followed by the Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy, originally a three-year pilot. The scholar teaches classes and lectures on and off campus, engaging a variety of students, faculty and the public.

The merged entity is directed by philosophy professor Dr. Robert Pasnau. It explores the culture, languages and ideas of the Western tradition, from antiquity to modern society. It brings liberals and conservatives together in direct dialogue, encouraging critical thinking and the comparison of ideas and philosophies. One of its signature efforts is a dialogue series addressing topics as diverse as ownership of public lands, abortion, tenure, offensive speech, and gay marriage, among others. The series, typically panel discussions offering varied viewpoints, has been well-attended and quite successful.

The center, which is privately funded and has an external advisory board as well as a faculty executive committee, has made remarkable strides in its history and is firmly embedded in the campus culture. It has expanded its scope and activities and is a cornerstone of our efforts to foster the open exchange of ideas. In addition to welcoming Robert Kaufman, our fifth Conservative Scholar, this fall, it has added three visiting fellowships, three CU faculty fellowships and two doctoral student fellowships. They are scholars of diverse political, intellectual and philosophical thought who represent a variety of academic fields. Expanding our efforts means we will be able to further expand the robust discussion and exchange of ideas the center helps foster.

Part of the center’s success can be attributed to the great people we have attracted under Pasnau’s inspired leadership. We were fortunate to have noted educator Steven Hayward as the first visiting scholar. He set a tone that welcomed open discussion and debate while not shying away from sometimes-controversial topics. Hayward was followed by Bradley Birzer, Brian Domitrovic and Francis Beckwith (who wrote an insightful article about his experiences), all of whom advanced the program and bolstered its place as an important part of the campus culture.

We know we are successful when others start copying our efforts. Hayward was recently brought on at the University of California-Berkeley to start a similar program there.

I would invite you to learn more about our center and follow its activities by joining its mailing list here.

The Center for Western Civilization, Thought and Policy may change some public attitudes about higher education, but that’s not our intent. Our goal is to foster the vigorous exchange of ideas and promote critical thinking. And in that, it is far exceeding our expectations.

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Bruce D. Benson
Bruce Benson

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