The classic little pillared bank building in the center of the small town of Lewisburg, Pa. Could be the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan in Bedford Falls from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But he is at the center of the revolutionary new trends emerging in American higher education.
The new headquarters of the Open Discourse Coalition (ODC) was created this spring by alumni of Bucknell University to support innovative programming for the neighboring campus, and will include seminar rooms, space for receptions and events. conferences, and research desks for students and faculty. The goal: to encourage diversity of points of view and civic discussion on campus on the âbig booksâ of the liberal arts tradition, in a university where the professors and staff seem to be more and more numerous to the students. only one set of extreme ideological views.
“We want to open higher education to new ideas and not let it stagnate in a static ideology, to adequately prepare students for a dynamic 21st century to come”, explains Allison Kasic, a former student involved in the project, who has seen the first funding alumni support in the seven digits since its launch in November 2020. Alumni involved include former Bucknell board chairman, Justice Susan Crawford, and Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone.
Among the ongoing innovative projects sponsored by ODC:
- An uncredited leadership seminar in the fall by a Bucknell professor emeritus and former general partner and naval officer of Goldman Sachs, whose courses have received rave reviews from generations of alumni, with grants for students who successfully complete it.
- Support for paradigm-shifting student research, faculty curriculum development, and faculty work that is attacked by colleagues for ideas at odds with conventional campus political wisdom.
- Program of speakers featuring dialogues and thoughtful points of view on issues often excluded from campus.
Through an on-campus faculty association founded in 2017 and now supported by ODC, the Bucknell Program for American Leadership and Citizenship (BPALC), courses have already been developed that reflect the coalition’s vision. They include subjects such as totalitarian studies, the Bible as literature, and American identity explored through various music and scriptures.
This past academic year, with support from the ODC, BPALC hosted speakers who included: divergent views on systemic racism from black academics Shelby Steele and John Fountain, a panel on how to include issues of class in campus diversity efforts with economist Glenn Loury and former Smith Jodi Shaw, college staff member, and a Lincoln Day talk on Abraham Lincoln’s Legacy Today For An America Divided By historian Wilfred McClay. Prior to the inception of the ODC, BPALC invited speakers ranging from conservative Princeton University professor Robert George to former Students for a Democratic Society president Todd Gitlin.
Concerned about national trends in American higher education away from the liberal arts tradition and exclusively towards militant causes such as the Green New Deal, critical race theory, and Antifa-style activism, many students salute these efforts to Bucknell, which encourage neither the right nor the left. but varied points of view.
âIt’s good to have support for dialogue and critical thinking and a solid foundation in the liberal arts,â said Isabella Carrega, a senior Hispanic at Bucknell who is majoring in literary and classical studies, and now works in as a student intern for the coalition.
Not everyone in the militant liberal college town of Lewisburg is happy with the new arrival on Market Street, which has featured other more exclusively left-wing efforts in the past. Recently, a banner was placed in front of the new ODC building (which is across from the Bucknell office building) by anonymous vandals. The sign read “Center for White Victimhood” and included the Home Depot logo, in reference to Langone’s involvement in ODC. A police investigation is underway, but supporters of a diversity of views say the work continues.
âWhile we certainly appreciate the welcome gifts, we would prefer that they didn’t take the form of vandalism,â commented Denise Chaykun Weaver, former Bucknell, ODC interim COO. âWe really like the Home Depot logo, but felt the overall message lacked creativity and intellectual forethought, so we pulled it out. It was too off-brand – ODC is anything but typical and boring, like the sign.
“We want to allow different points of view to be critically examined, and that is what college education in America should be like today,” she continued. âDisagreement is welcome, but we want to foster a community where it is done in a civil manner. “
Paul Siewers is Associate Professor of Literary Studies at Bucknell University and Director of the Bucknell Program for American Leadership and Citizenship (bucknellleaders.org). Charles Mitchell is President of the Open Discourse Coalition (opendiscoursecoalition.org) and a graduate of Bucknell.