In response to the tensions around today’s contemporary issues, a group of faculty members have launched Free University of Chicago, a forum for academic criticism of the current political climate.
Free University of Chicago is a forum composed of 30 faculty members, who will discuss what they describe as the most pressing political issues. Some of these faculty members are retired but will participate in order to discuss these issues. This spring quarter the main theme of the forum will be “Politics Now.” The inaugural talk in the series, “Diversity Politics vs. Class Politics” was held on April 5.
The idea behind Free University of Chicago came from anthropology professor Marshall Sahlins, and Divinity School professor Bruce Lincoln. According to Lincoln, the idea originated in a conversation around New Year’s—they were lamenting the results of November’s election and wondering what they could do. Both professors wanted to find a way to speak out about the current political state in a more formal manner.
Sahlins and Lincoln considered the idea to replicate the Collège de Sociologie, a Parisian movement in the late 1930s featuring intellectuals such as Georges Bataille, Roger Caillois, Michel Leiris, and Walter Benjamin. Members of the Collège discussed the rising fascist movement, leading to a series of lectures and writings which remain influential today. “We thought there was similar talent, energy, and commitment around here,” Lincoln said.
The Seminary Co-Op is providing a space for the discussions. In addition to the inaugural session, four sessions are planned for spring quarter: “How Democracies Fail” given by Bruce Lincoln, on April 19, “The Dutch-Christian Roots of Betsy Devos’s Educational Policies” given by Willemien Otten on May 3, “Notes on Collective Madness, Political and Otherwise” given by Tom Mitchell on May 17, and “The History of the Future (and its Implications for Politics Now)” given by Bill Sewell, on May 31.
The first session, held last Wednesday at the Seminary Co-Op, featured Walter Benn Michaels, a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Michaels gave a talk about “Diversity Politics vs. Class Politics,” in which he argued that the more the left is focused on the issue of inequality, the easier it is for the right to ignore inequality.