New director starts work amid the new normal
This month the Center welcomes Daniel Jacobson to the helm, following a national search last fall. Jacobson comes to CU Boulder from the University of Michigan, where he was a Professor of Philosophy. In addition to serving as the Benson Center director, Jacobson is the newly appointed Bruce D. Benson Endowed Professor of Philosophy.
Jacobson is “excited to be joining the Benson Center,” noting that “its mission of encouraging civil discourse about contentious issues, promoting the study of Western Civilization in a fair-minded way, and increasing intellectual and political diversity at CU and beyond is more pressing now than ever.” As the new director, he is “deeply committed to defending and furthering this mission.”
Jacobson, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and a BA from Yale University, works on a range of topics in ethics, moral psychology, aesthetics, and the moral and political philosophy of J. S. Mill. He founded and heads the Freedom and Flourishing Project, which is dedicated to exploring and developing the classical liberal tradition, defending freedom of speech, and increasing political diversity in academia.
As he begins his new post, Jacobson is grateful for the Center’s support during the transition. “I want to thank Ben Hale, Betty Kilsdonk, and Lily Welch for helping me get my bearings, as well as keeping things going in an extremely difficult time; and especially Bob Pasnau for his work establishing the Center and encouraging me to apply for the position as director.”
The newly endowed professorship is named in honor of University of Colorado President Emeritus Bruce Benson and was made possible by generous gifts to the Bruce D. Benson Legacy Endowment Fund.
Center hosts visiting scholars in residence and incoming fellows
The Center’s visiting scholars and fellows are invaluable to furthering its mission and outreach, fostering intellectual diversity and dialogue both on campus and in the broader community.
Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy (VSCTP) John C. Eastman and Senior Scholar in Residence Elizabeth C’de Baca Eastman lead the roster of visiting scholars for the 2020-21 academic year. Robert Merry, also previously named as a 2020-21 VSCTP, has opted to defer his appointment until 2021-22 due to the pandemic. In addition to teaching and other important work, the Eastmans are presenting the annual Conservative Thought and Policy public lecture series. Speakers and topics are organized around the Center's 2020-21 theme (Community or Disunity?) and will be announced on the website.
Three CU Boulder professors will serve as 2020-21 Center Faculty Fellows: Brian Talbot (philosophy), Jillian Porter (Germanic and Slavic languages and literatures), and Kevin Rich (theatre and dance).
CU Boulder doctoral students Jenna Gersie (English) and Theodore (TJ) Mclemore (literature) have been named Benson Center Harper Ph.D. Fellows.
Faculty fall semester course offerings range from ancient Greece to the 2020 presidential election
Last year, Benson Center visiting faculty taught 16 courses to 468 student enrollees eager to learn more about the moral, economic, and political questions of our time, a 33% increase in courses, and a 20% increase in enrollees over the prior year. Current offerings by director Jacobson and this year's visiting faculty address American politics, international law, contemporary social problems, Latin America and ancient Greece
- PHIL 1800-001 Philosophy and the 2020 Election, Mon. & Wed., 4:10-5:25 p.m., CASE E240
This class will focus on issues relating to American politics and the election, during the 2020 presidential election season and in its aftermath. We will consider the election dispassionately: as a horse race. What do polls and betting markets show us and to what extent are they predictive? What are “wedge issues” and how are they used by campaigns? Have you ever watched a political debate only to discover that its practical effects were very different from your assessment of who won? Why was that? Notice that all these questions can be posed and answered without regard to which side is right about the issues, in your opinion or mine. As a general rule, people don’t like to be confronted with “adverse discussion”: arguments for conclusions they reject. They prefer simple narratives that avoid engaging the crux of the issues, or else form their preferences on other grounds entirely. Politicians know this and capitalize on it. In this seminar, all of your preconceived political views will be challenged, specifically in the context of the ongoing presidential campaign.
- CWCV 4000-002 Foundations of Western Civilization: History of the Law of Nations, Tues. & Thurs., 2:20-3:35 p.m., Duane Physics G1B39
Originally understood as the component of the natural law by which nations dealt with one another in accord with higher law principles of justice, international law underwent a transformation in the early twentieth century, when it became more a matter of positive law via treaties and multilateral conventions. In recent years, a new transformation seems to be underway, with higher law-type claims that various aspects of an evolving customary international law have a binding effect even on those nations that have declined to join the treaties from which that customary international law is said to derive. This course will survey the writings of the great international law theorists of human history, and address some of the significant contemporary issues in international law in light of those historical understandings.
- PSCI 3054-003 American Political Thought, Tues. & Thurs., 3:55-5:10 p.m., Fleming 33
Highlights the development of American political theories and ideas from the colonial period to the present.
- PSCI 4028-001 Special Topics: The Age of Lincoln, Tues. & Thurs., 11:10-12:25 p.m., Imig Music Building Music Theatre N1B95D (located in the basement)
President Abraham Lincoln lived in one of the most divisive periods in American politics and history. What events led to Lincoln ascending to the presidency, how did he navigate the tumultuous era, and what is his legacy? The writings of Lincoln, his predecessors and contemporaries, and modern commentators guide discussion of these questions and themes.
- PHIL 1200-001 Contemporary Social Problems, Tues & Thurs, 3:55-5:10 p.m., meets remotely
Examines competing positions in debates over a wide variety of controversial moral, social, and political issues.
- CLAS/ARTH 4149/5149-001 Greek Cities and Sanctuaries, Mon, Wed & Fri, 10:20-11:10 a.m., HUMN 250 and meets remotely
Examines Greek architecture in context, from the ninth century B.C.E. into the Hellenistic period, considering the use of space, both in religious and in civic settings and using texts as well as material culture.
Center announces associate faculty director
Shilo Brooks has been appointed associate faculty director of the Benson Center. In this new position, he supports the Center's academic work and furthers the establishment of the Center’s intellectual community on campus, across the U.S. and worldwide. Brooks previously served as faculty coordinator of the Center’s summer institute and on its executive committee, roles he will continue in the new assignment.
In addition to his Center position, Brooks is faculty director of the Engineering Leadership Program and senior instructor in the Engineering Management Program in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, and holds a courtesy appointment in the Herbst Program for Engineering, Ethics and Society. Brooks received his Ph.D. in political science from Boston College, and his BA in liberal arts from the Great Books Program at St. John's College, Annapolis.
Western Civ Dialogue series “The Canceled" addresses the impact of social coercion on political speech
Each year the Center’s Western Civ Dialogue Series features an intellectually diverse slate of lectures, debates, and panels of expert speakers addressing a topic of political, social, or economic importance. This year’s topic is the emergence of a cancel culture as a political and cultural force.
In recent months, social coercion has become a more effective means of restricting political speech than legal coercion. Opinions that were once common are now anathema, and campaigns to de-platform or even “cancel” proponents of these opinions are increasingly frequent. These attempts at "cancellation" are not merely fair-minded criticism. Rather, they involve efforts to punish those with heterodox views by banishing them from social media, pressuring their employers to fire them, harassing them in public, or threatening their families. These new methods of social coercion have curtailed the range of political views that can be expressed publicly without fear of social sanction. This series considers the implications of the new cancel culture, the norms it imposes on thought and expression, and the conformism it attempts to compel. Speakers will be announced on the Center's website.
History has its eyes on him: Benson Center virtual panel discusses Hamilton: An American Musical
On October 20 at 6 p.m., please join us in the “room where it happens.” We’re holding a live-panel virtual discussion of the real-life story of one of America’s founders and first Secretary of the Treasury. The program will be offered in the context of Lin-Manuel Miranda's hit original Broadway production Hamilton and the times in which he lived. Information on how to participate will be available on the website. The multi-disciplinary panel includes Markas Henry, Associate Professor, Theater; Taylor Jaworski, Assistant Professor, Economics; Elizabeth Eastman, Benson Center Senior Scholar in Residence; and Honor Sachs, Assistant Professor, History.
Engagement survey supports livestreaming of lectures, debates and panels
A big thank you to the more than 200 participants in our recent community engagement surveys. As the Center works with university and community leadership to prepare for a COVID-19-ready campus for fall semester, we appreciate your input on how best to keep our students and community members safely engaged.
- Preferred way of getting information: Direct email, followed by the newsletter and the website.
- First choice for no-contact or limited-contact programming: Livestream YouTube or Zoom of lectures, debates and panels. Participants also favored video interviews with scholars to be posted online; on-line film screenings with scholar-led discussions; and five-minute video overviews of scholarly research produced by our visitors.
- Assuming programming can be implemented safely, first choice for in-person programming: Debates between two scholars with opposing points of view, followed by question and answer. Other top choices included debates in which each lecturer has an opportunity to speak, followed by an engaged conversation moderated by a faculty member; and lectures with question and answer component.
Center provides new student scholarship program, additional opportunities for engagement
Thanks to the generosity of donors, the Center offers an array of opportunities to support students in the study of Western civilization.
- Incoming juniors Adelle Poyton and AJ Shively are Center interns for this academic year. Project management intern Adelle is majoring in Humanities with a communications emphasis, and is minoring in business. Social media and communications intern AJ is a strategic communications major with an emphasis in advertisement, and is minoring in philosophy and business.
- The Center recently launched a new John J. Wehman Scholarship program for undergraduates working in the areas of Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Students serve as Wehman Scholars through the academic year. The application deadline is Sept. 4, 2020.
- The Center partners with the CU in D.C. program to support semester-long internships in our nation's capital, putting classroom learning into real-world action. Please contact the CU in D.C. program for more information.
- The Harper Ph.D. Fellowship is awarded to CU Boulder Ph.D. students who commit to year-long participation in the Center’s programming, annual theme, and the larger goal of fostering intellectual diversity and dialogue on the campus and in the broader community.
- Internship and Language Study Grants are awarded to undergraduate and graduate students to help subsidize summer internships and language study related to the Center’s mission.
Please see our student resources page for comprehensive information about student scholarships and other student support including earning a Certificate in Western Civilization, joining the Undergraduate Fellows Program, and enrolling in course offerings. Scholarship applications are accepted through the CU Boulder Scholarship Application service.
Fall grant deadline extended for faculty grants
The Center supports faculty across multiple disciplines in pursuing outreach and educational initiatives which contribute to critical reflection on the development of Western civilization. All CU Boulder faculty (including instructors) are eligible to apply. There are three award cycles per academic year. The application deadlines in any given year are Sept. 1, Dec. 1 and March 1.
This year, due to the evolving nature of campus planning with respect to COVID-19, the Center has extended the Sept. 1 deadline to Oct. 1. If there is an urgent need for a funding decision, please contact Lily Welch to request off-cycle consideration.
Please see the Benson Center website for application details and recent grant awards. The Center is particularly interested in funding scholarly lectures, public lectures, conferences, educational initiatives, and community outreach. During the 2019–20 academic year, the Center awarded 26 faculty grants totaling $33,175.