In an era where presidential campaign stops are carefully populated with audiences who already support the candidate, and even reality TV is scripted, you might think that honest dialogue has gone the way of the VCR. Fear not! Open discourse is alive and well, thanks in part to the Ford Hall Forum at Suffolk University.
Ford Hall Forum is the oldest continuing public lecture series in the country. Each year, it brings prominent, thought-provoking, and often controversial speakers to campus and Boston to talk about a variety of key issues facing society.
Most notably, the speakers engage in frank discussion with the audience. “Our speakers understand that no questions are off-limits,” explains Jennifer Bonardi, executive director of the Ford Hall Forum. For example, audience members asked Buddy Cianci, former mayor of Providence, how he chose his defense attorney, and how it felt to have the Family Guy television show constantly make fun of him.
In addition, speakers are not compensated for their time and expertise. “They value free speech and the opportunity to contribute to the national and international dialogue on important issues,” adds Bonardi.
Founded in 1908, the Ford Hall Forum has featured notable speakers such as Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Margaret Mead. Recent past speakers have included Ashley Judd, award-winning actress and humanitarian; Mitt Romney, presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor; and Jim Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Company. They have covered topics ranging from public school reform to the financial crisis to modern Islam.
Forums are free and open to the public. “Our forums typically attract about 2,500 people annually, including Boston residents, tourists, and Suffolk students, faculty, and staff,” says Bonardi.
The Ford Hall Forum began partnering with Suffolk University’s College of Arts & Sciences in 2008. “The Forum’s efforts to foster an informed and effective public are a wonderful complement to the University’s own mission to educate students to become successful and conscientious citizens of the world,” says Ken Greenberg, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.
This spring, the Ford Hall Forum will feature a new slate of thought-provoking speakers, addressing such topics as political satire, genetic engineering, and Fenway Park’s centennial. In addition, its annual First Amendment Award will be presented to veteran Saturday Night Live writer Jim Downey by comedian and actor Bill Murray.