What’s On My Mind: Chancellor’s Lecture Series is rooted in principles of civil discourse

An important part of our role at Vanderbilt is to convene diverse ideas and opinions. You can see that every day in our lectures and laboratories, as students from all backgrounds gather to learn from faculty committed to cross-disciplinary discovery.

We extend that opportunity to the city through our Chancellor’s Lecture Series, which brings to campus national and international thought leaders who can educate and inspire us with their insights.

The fall series kicks off this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in Langford Auditorium with Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency.

The retired four-star general’s new book is The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies and is the first title in the new book club I’ve launched this fall. Through the series and partner events like the book club, we aim to expand opportunities for our students, faculty and staff to engage in meaningful dialogue with the leaders shaping global conversations today.

I’m looking forward to joining one the nation’s brightest minds in security along with Distinguished Visiting Professor Jon Meacham to talk about what’s happening in our country and what the underlying causes might be. I hope you’ll be there. You may not agree with Hayden’s views—but we will all leave the lecture more aware and better informed.

That’s the goal of these lectures and other public events. You can see as well as I can that the growing ideological gaps in our society are tearing at the fabric of our nation. It’s up to each one of us to step up and participate in public discourse and civil debate, qualities in which our country has been steeped since its founding.

President Abraham Lincoln took the concept further than most when he appointed his three biggest rivals to his cabinet shortly after his election. As chronicled in Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2009 book A Team of Rivals—she was our Senior Day speaker that year—Lincoln told the public that in a time of peril, the country needed to be led by its strongest men.

Lincoln’s thinking was that by putting these three in his cabinet, he would have access to a wide range of opinions, thus sharpening his own thinking. Also, by unifying his opponents, he was able to present a consolidated front in the Civil War. Having all those opinions in his cabinet not only helped him, it helped the country as well.

We can mirror Lincoln’s thinking ourselves—by welcoming intelligent discourse among many perspectives, we can widen our understanding, sharpen our thinking and build a stronger community.

I hope you’ll join me in these important conversations at the Chancellor’s Lecture Series this year.