Janus Forum hopes to hold Supreme discussion

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Consistent with its rising profile on campus, the Janus Forum is looking to bring Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Antonin Scalia to campus.

On Feb. 21, the forum hosted a speech by two former U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations: Professor-at-Large Richard Holbrooke ’62, ambassador under President Clinton from 1999 to 2001, and John Bolton, ambassador under President Bush in 2005 and 2006.

Last November, the forum brought Stanford political scientist Morris Fiorina and University of Virginia professor James Hunter to campus to discuss cultural conflict in America.

In October, it brought Johns Hopkins political economist Francis Fukuyama and Princeton professor Lee Silver for a talk on the changing face of biotechnology.

The forum steering committee is hoping to raise the bar and host a talk by Ginsberg and Scalia sometime next year.

The Janus Forum is an undergraduate sub-group of the Political Theory Project, a graduate-level political think tank founded by Associate Professor of Political Science John Tomasi, that promotes “thought, debate and discussion around political ideas,” according to the forum’s Web site.

The group is named after Janus, a Roman god depicted by two heads looking in opposite directions. True to their organization’s name, the Janus events always host two speakers to provide contrasting opinions and thoughts on the same topic.

“We’re working on a couple different events for next year. That’s one that’s come up but we’re not anywhere near getting them to come yet,” said the forum’s Executive Director Jesse Maddox ’08, on the possibility of the justices speaking at a future event.

The first event next fall will be a discussion about the effectiveness of the Electoral College, Maddox said.

A variety of factors, including gradual and intelligent growth, contribute to the forum’s success, said Nathaniel Manning ’08, its marketing director.

“We haven’t chosen Salomon (101) until now,” Manning said, speaking of the Bolton-Holbrooke lecture. He said the expectation to immediately be able to fill a large lecture hall was unrealistic and that it was better to start off small. Recent Janus Forum events have been held in MacMillan 117, Salomon 001 and List 120.

Maddox provided a different view. “Gradual growth is more of a by-product than something we’ve been focusing on,” he said.

Despite the seemingly rising profile of speakers, Maddox said the Janus Forum focuses instead on “looking for leaders in fields.” He cited Lee Silver as an example. “Most people hadn’t heard of Lee Silver,” he said, except people in the biotechnology field, to whom Silver was well-known prior to the Janus lecture.

But both Maddox and Manning agreed that quality is a key to success.

“We put in a lot of effort – we do everything well,” Maddox said. “We’re trying to build up the Janus Forum brand: (events) will be put on well, the speakers will be interesting and people like the idea.”

Manning agreed, saying, “We’ve been able to continually deliver a quality product – it’s the amount of thought (that goes into the events).”

The forum is “always delivering – we’ve been successful every time,” he added.

“It’s easier to fill Salomon with two U.N. ambassadors, but it doesn’t happen by itself,” Maddox continued. “There are lots of people who put lots of effort into making things happen.”

In addition, the success of the project stems from the novel idea of hosting two speakers instead of one, Manning said.

“One problem is that having only one speaker does a disservice to the fact that for any given issue, there are many ideas and viewpoints that exist and that are taken seriously by intelligent and thoughtful (speakers),” Maddox wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. “Thus, two speakers rather than one.”

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