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Supporting academic freedom

Ford Foundation grant will support programs fostering "Difficult Dialogues"

President James Wright has joined several other higher education leaders in encouraging participation in a new program aimed at advancing discussion and protecting academic freedom on the nation's college and university campuses.

The program, titled "Difficult Dialogues:  Promoting Pluralism and Academic Freedom on Campus," will offer $2.5 million in grant funds for projects designed to focus on promoting "a free and open campus community."

"Many institutions, including some of the leading colleges and universities in the nation, are struggling with issues of academic freedom and free speech," Wright said.  "We must see to it that our students and our faculties have the opportunity for open discourse that is absolutely unimpeded by political constraints. This is a commendable step by the Ford Foundation, and I was honored to be asked to join the group and pleased to agree to do so."  President Wright's September 2004 Convocation address discussed the importance of open dialogue on campus.

The initiative opened with a Mar. 31 letter to three thousand university and college presidents from Wright and fifteen other signatories, including Ford Foundation President Susan V. Berresford; Derek Bok, President Emeritus of Harvard University; Robert J. Birgenau, Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley; Shirley Tilghman, President of Princeton University and David Ward, President of the American Council on Education.

The Ford Foundation calls for grant proposals to address the potentially chilling effect of the 9/11 attacks, the Iraq war and violence in the Middle East on academic dialogue. Institutions were invited to submit grant applications for new and existing programs designed to foster free and open dialogue, protect academics' right to pursue and express unpopular ideas and to resist increasing polarization of public debate.

The letter argued that, "in times like these, we need to be especially vigilant in maintaining and nurturing a free and open campus environment. Unrestrained academic scholarship and the expression of a wide diversity of viewpoints are the hallmarks of the American university system and must be vigorously defended." The letter also cited recent reports of religious intolerance and restrictions on academic freedom in its appeal to the nation's higher education leaders.

The initiative invites accredited degree-granting non-profit institutions with general undergraduate programs to submit preliminary proposals by May 16. Through a national selection process, the foundation will invite the most promising projects to submit formal proposals. The Ford Foundation will award approximately 25 grants of up to $100,000 to selected institutions.

The Ford Foundation is a non-profit organization devoted to strengthening democratic values, reducing poverty and injustice, promoting international cooperation and advancing human achievement throughout the world. For more information, visit

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Last Updated: 12/17/08