The Forum | Intellectual Diversity

Students at Northern Michigan University Embrace the Examined Life

April 5, 2019

ACTA’s newest Oasis of Excellence, the Center for Academic and Intellectual Freedom (CAIF) at Northern Michigan University (NMU), has been extremely active in promoting civic dialogue and robust debate for students. The Center, which is administered by Professor of English Gabriel Brahm and a board of faculty advisors, sponsors readings, debates, and lectures for intellectually curious students.

Just this past month, the Center for Academic and Intellectual Freedom hosted a lecture by Patrick Deneen—professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame and author of Why Liberalism Failed—with almost 200 students in attendance. On April 8, the Center will host historian Benny Morris, an expert on Israeli and Palestinian history, and on April 22, CAIF will host a lecture by Greg Lukianoff, CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.

CAIF was founded in order to combat intellectual homogeneity on campus. The program’s mission states: “We promote freedom of mind and respect for individual rights, both in education and elsewhere, amidst the competing cultures of conformism typified by today’s widespread anti-intellectualism, totalitarian populism, fear of knowledge, and hatred of reason.”

The Center is joining a growing trend of groups and individuals in the academy who have become frustrated with the dismal level of rational discourse in this country and the ideological echo chambers on so many campuses. But perhaps most importantly, the Center for Academic and Intellectual Freedom is inspiring our future leaders:

Hattie Foley – Undergraduate Fellow

“I graduated from NMU in December ’18 with my Bachelor of Arts in English Graduate Studies and with a minor in writing. I was introduced to Dr. Brahm through a literary theory class during my senior year, where we studied ‘the examined life’ that Plato explores through Socrates. CAIF is dedicated to exactly this concept: to enter into ‘the examined life’ through discussion in order to understand who we are as a society, how we think and enter into discourse, and where we go from this point as a nation thoughtfully and purposefully. In discussion with authors and thinkers that CAIF sponsors, we explore issues pertinent to this tumultuous day and age, and discuss where critical thinking and appropriate action and response are lacking. As a conservative student on a college campus, knowing groups like CAIF exist is important more now than ever. We need groups that are willing to bring in thinkers and speakers that go against the grain, such as Patrick Deneen, the author of Why Liberalism Failed. His work challenges us to think beyond partisan boundaries in a refreshing and energizing way. This group invigorates the people who are a part of it and those who attend its seminars and talks; it revitalizes people’s desire to communicate respectfully and effectively in order to be agents of change.”

Tim Eggert – Undergraduate Fellow

“Lamentably, I’ve observed the collapse of academe’s organizing principles—unlimited academic freedom and unfettered free inquiry underpinned by viewpoint diversity—on university campuses across the United States. The Center for Academic and Intellectual Freedom, however, exists as an essential bastion of free speech and open inquiry. In its commitment to preserving and promoting robust civil dialogue, the Center serves as a model of how citizens should engage with each other in their exchange of critical thought and speech. It’s clear from the seminars, lectures, and debates I have participated in that people can disagree amiably, reasonably, and constructively. An advocate of academic and intellectual freedom, CAIF provided me with a ‘safe space’ for discussions that question mainstream political ideologies and provides a model for my participation in the political community. I will never forget these inspirational lessons in the true meaning of viewpoint diversity and open inquiry. I have not encountered a program that remains as devoted to protecting and exercising the freedom of thought and speech as CAIF, and because of my experience with CAIF, I am hopeful that civic dialogue, free and open inquiry, and true viewpoint diversity will reemerge as firm pillars of academic and civic life.”


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