The small, classically pillared bank building at the center of the little town of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, could be the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan in Bedford Falls from the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But it’s at the center of revolutionary new trends emerging in American higher education.
The new headquarters of the Open Discourse Coalition (ODC) was established this spring by Bucknell University alumni to support innovative programming for the nearby campus, and will feature seminar rooms, space for receptions and talks, and offices for student and faculty research. The goal: Encourage viewpoint diversity and civil discussion on campus about the “great books” of the liberal arts tradition, at a university where faculty and staff increasingly seem to many students to only advocate for one set of extreme ideological views.
“We want to open up higher education to new ideas and not let it stagnate in static ideology, to prepare students adequately for a dynamic twenty-first century ahead,” explains Allison Kasic, an alumna involved in the project, which has seen initial financial support from alumni in the seven figures since its launch in November 2020. The alumni involved include a former chair of Bucknell’s Board of Trustees, Judge Susan Crawford, and Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone.
Among innovative projects underway sponsored by ODC:
A non-credit leadership seminar in the fall by a Bucknell professor emeritus and former Goldman Sachs general partner and naval officer, whose courses earned rave reviews from generations of alumni, with grants for students who successfully complete it. Support for paradigm-shifting student research, faculty curricular development, and faculty work that comes under attack by colleagues for ideas at odds with conventional campus political wisdom. Speaker programming featuring dialogues and thoughtful viewpoints 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 topics such as totalitarian studies, the Bible as literature, and American identity explored through diverse music and writing.
This past academic year, with
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