Honors Colloquium Turns 50

The URI Honors Colloquium celebrates its 50th anniversary this fall when the 2012 edition examines Healthcare Change: Health, Politics, and Money. Coordinated by Mary Cloud and Shahla Yekta from the College of Nursing, Jef Bratberg from the College of Pharmacy, and Roger LeBrun from the College of the Environment and Life Sciences, the series kick-off Sept. 11.

Colloquium founders did not foresee this longevity. Nancy Potter, Hon. ’67, one of the early coordinators says, “I never thought it would last this long.” She attributes the program’s success to its flexibility. Everything about the program has been subject to change except its fundamental objective—to bring leading experts on contemporary, controversial topics to URI to share their thoughts and work with honors students.

For the first two years only students and faculty members in the class could attend. The professors were not allowed to participate in the discussion following the lecture and could not bring their wives or family members. Today, while the newsworthy colloquium continues to attract and inspire students, the public lecture series is one of the University’s signature events, attracting an audience from the Rhode Island community and beyond.

Colloquium coordinators have come from more than 30 departments and represent all colleges. For many years it was a two-semester program. Beginning with 1999’s Legacies of the Vietnam War program, the public lecture series moved to the fall semester where it remains today. Since 2005, the Honors Program has also offered a smaller scale spring colloquium.

Many prominent speakers have visited the Kingston Campus to participate in the series, including Coretta Scott King, Pete Seeger, actor activist Christopher Reeve, Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, Ben Cohen (of Ben & Jerry’s), Bob Cousy, novelists Chris Cleave and Jhumpa Lahiri, Professor and MSNBC personality Melissa Harris-Perry, and inventor Ray Kurzweil.

Topics have included genetics, nonviolence, globalization, hunger, China, India, and climate change. The 2006 colloquium, Songs of Social Justice, provided a unique program of musical performances by performers generally associated with the civil rights movement.

Historical data provided by Allison Shea ’14