Seton Hall began its Great Minds Dialogues, which will spotlight several scholars from differing fields. On Nov. 12 in Bethany Hall, philosopher and theologian Dr. John Caputo spoke at the series’ inaugural event where he engaged in topics related to academic freedom, and political correctness, among several related subjects.
According to Student Government Association President, Rishi Shah, who introduced Caputo at the inaugural event, said Caputo has authored 20 books and some 200 articles and book chapters. Additionally, Shah said Caputo, with over 46 years of teaching experience, is a professor emeritus from both Syracuse University and Villanova University.
At the talk, Caputo answered the event’s central question of whether a church-affiliated university is intrinsically opposed to the freedom of inquiry. He structured his discussion into three parts. Firstly, he discussed the idea of a university. Secondly, he delved into the state of academic freedom regarding a secular institution. Lastly, he presented his thoughts on the state of academic freedom in relation to a Catholic institution.
“The university is an institution which represents, embodies, enacts an unconditional affirmation of the truth,” Caputo said. “To work at a university is to be drawn by the power of the truth.”
Professor of Law at the University’s law school Michael Ceoenen moderated the question and answer segment which followed Caputo’s lecture.
Senior and diplomacy major Ali Aljarrah attended the talk and said he enjoyed the speaker’s exploration of academic freedom in regard to both public and private universities. In the upcoming series, he hopes speakers will touch on society’s polarized climate.
“I do want to see a speaker that discusses how our society if or can create dialogue to move forward given the current hyper political climate,” Aljarrah said.
The Great Minds Dialogues will be a series of speakers engaging in challenging issues in a civil way, according to Interim Provost Dr. Karen Boroff. Moreover, Boroff said the team of faculty, students and administrators who are planning the series are scheduling speakers to discuss immigration, which is targeted for February. Another dialogue, which remains in the early stages of planning, is aimed for mid-March and will focus on social media.
“The concept itself of these dialogues has its origin with our new President, Dr. Joseph Nyre. He blended the core purpose of a university, to explore, debate, pursue, challenge, but all in a civil and respectful manner, and coupled that with Seton Hall University’s own brand of What Great Minds Can Do. Then, a team was assembled, working on one of the shared goals for this year, to operationalize the vision.”
Sophomore and diplomacy major and member of the planning committee Stefan Ferreira said the purpose of these talks are to promote civil dialogue, debate and discourse. According to Ferreira, the topics in current discussion among the committee are immigration, identity and the effects of social media. For the inaugural dialogue, Caputo was one of many names suggested in the committee said Ferreira. He said Caputo was chosen “because of his focus on academic freedom, his availability, and expertise on the subject.”
Furthermore, Boroff said discourse regarding challenging issues has degraded across society. To rectify this issue individuals must “communicate in all its forms—to listen and to speak.” She said the planning committee intends to encourage community members’ capacity to listen and learn with respect “even if a scholar presents a position about which we disagree.”
“Our charge is ‘whether Setonians, as the servant leaders each of us strive to be, can be exemplars in demonstrating we can listen to ideas to which we disagree in a civil manner.” Boroff said. We all represent the reputation of our great University. ‘guard her banner blue and white,’ are not just words in our Alma Mater, but are words to which we commit ourselves.”
Thomas Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.