St. Olaf College | News

Institute for Freedom and Community announces speakers for spring series

A collage of the Institute for Freedom and Community spring speakers that shows (top row, left to right) Irshad Manji, Michael Sandel, Bari Weiss, Loretta Ross, (bottom row, left to right) Sheena Greitens, Minxin Pei, Jonathan Stromseth '85, Bryan Caplan, Helen Pluckrose, and Ilana Redstone.
The Institute for Freedom and Community spring speakers are (top row, left to right) Irshad Manji, Michael Sandel, Bari Weiss, Loretta Ross, (bottom row, left to right) Sheena Greitens, Minxin Pei, Jonathan Stromseth ’85, Bryan Caplan, Helen Pluckrose, and Ilana Redstone.

The St. Olaf College Institute for Freedom and Community will host seven events this spring featuring a variety of speakers discussing two broad themes: “Diversity, Freedom, and Community” and “America after Trump.”

Each event will be hosted virtually, and these live videos can be accessed through links on the Institute’s website. Events will include a conversation between each invited speaker and Morrison Family Director of the Institute for Freedom and Community Edmund Santurri. All speaker events are free and open to the public, and their recordings will be archived online. Registration is encouraged but not required.

The series will begin on February 22 with a discussion with Irshad Manji, the founder of Moral Courage College, which teaches people how to engage on polarizing issues without shaming or “cancelling” each other. A professor of leadership at New York University for many years, Manji now lectures with Oxford University’s Initiative for Global Ethics and Human Rights. Oprah has given Manji the Chutzpah Award for boldness. Manji’s latest book, Don’t Label Me, reimagines diversity to include diversity of viewpoint.

Following that will be a March 4 conversation with Michael Sandel, a Harvard University political philosopher and bestselling author who challenges audiences to examine the ethical dilemmas we confront in politics, business, and our everyday lives. One of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, Sandel has been described as “the most relevant living philosopher” and “a rock-star moralist” by Newsweek, and “the most famous teacher of philosophy in the world” by New Republic. Last year Sandel released The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? It was named “Best Book of 2020” by multiple outlets, including Bloomberg.

The event series continues with a March 11 discussion with Bari Weiss, a journalist and the author of How to Fight Anti-Semitism, which won a 2019 National Jewish Book Award and a Natan Notable Book Award. From 2017 to 2020 Weiss was an opinion writer and editor at The New York Times. Before that, she was an op-ed and book review editor at The Wall Street Journal and a senior editor at Tablet Magazine. Weiss is this year’s winner of the inaugural Per Ahlmark award in recognition of her moral courage. She is also the winner of the Reason Foundation’s 2018 Bastiat Prize, which honors writing that “best demonstrates the importance of freedom with originality, wit, and eloquence.” 

Following that is a March 22 conversation with Loretta Ross, an award-winning, nationally recognized expert on racism and racial justice, women’s rights, and human rights. Her work emphasizes the intersectionality of social justice issues and how intersectionality can fuel transformation. Ross teaches at Smith College in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender, leading courses on white supremacy, race and culture in America, human rights, and calling in the calling out culture. She appears regularly in major media outlets and has co-written three books on reproductive justice, including Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice, which won the Outstanding Book Award by the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights. Her current book, Calling In the Calling Out Culture, is forthcoming in 2021.

The event series will then pivot to an April 13 panel discussion featuring an exchange of ideas between Sheena Greitens, Minxin Pei, and Jonathan Stromseth ’85 on “China after Trump.” Greitens is an associate professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where she is affiliated with both UT’s Strauss Center and Clements Center for National Security. Pei is the Tom and Margot Pritzker ‘72 Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College. He is also the Library of Congress Chair in U.S.-China Relations and a nonresident senior fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Stromseth is currently a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he holds the Lee Kuan Yew Chair in Southeast Asia Studies in the Center for East Asia Policy Studies.

Following that will be an April 29 conversation with Bryan Caplan, a professor of economics at George Mason University and a New York Times bestselling author. Caplan wrote The Myth of the Rational Voter, which was named “the best political book of the year” by the New York Times, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, The Case Against Education, and Open Borders (co-authored with Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal’s Zach Weinersmith). Caplan’s latest project, Poverty: Who To Blame, is well underway. 

The spring series will conclude with a May 11 discussion with Helen Pluckrose and Ilana Redstone. Pluckrose is the editor-in-chief of Areo Magazine, a broadly liberal humanist digital magazine, and the founder of Counterweight, an organization that helps individuals resist the imposition of Critical Social Justice on their day-to-day lives. She is co-author, with James Lindsay, of the bestselling book Cynical Theories. Redstone is a professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the founder of Diverse Perspectives Consulting. She is a co-author of the book Unassailable Ideas: How Unwritten Rules and Social Media Shape Discourse in American Higher Education and the creator of the “Beyond Bigots and Snowflakes” video series. 

About the Institute
Established at St. Olaf in 2014, the Institute for Freedom and Community encourages free inquiry and meaningful debate of important political and social issues among students, faculty, and the general public. To that end, the Institute sponsors a range of programming opportunities, in addition to the lecture series, to further cultivate civil discourse within the context of the liberal arts. Subscribe to the Institute’s YouTube channel and sign up for the quarterly newsletter to receive regular updates and information about Institute programming.