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by Anthony Battaglia

The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 15, Number 2.

Investing in Future Humanist Leaders

In the next few years, readers of Free Inquiry and the Secular Humanist Bulletin will hear regular reports on the growth of the Center for Inquiry Institute. We have set the year 2002 as the target date for achieving status as a credit-granting educational program, and there are many other milestones to be achieved in the meantime.

Dr. Reid Johnson has just been appointed Dean of the Institute after serving as Acting Dean. Under his guidance, course offerings have been reworked and expanded. A new course catalogue will be soon be available that will publicize an amazing offering of core courses, workshops, and contemporary electives. Distribution of the new catalogue will coincide with the announcement of new course offerings, such as the Psychology of Belief and the History and Philosophy of Science. 

But my purpose at this time is not to publicize the Institute, but rather to discuss the Institute as a "leadership cauldron." A few months ago, the Council for Secular Humanism hired Amanda Chesworth to coordinate the Campus Freethought Alliance. Her skills first came to our attention through her involvement with the Institute. Later, after serving as the Council's regional director, she join the staff in Amherst. Another Institute student just published a book of biblical analysis.

The Institute increasingly serves as an important bridge between generations. Not so long ago, a humanist event conveyed images of thoughtful, reflective senior citizens. Attend a program at the Institute today, and you will find retirees somewhat in the minority, with much of the class comprised of working professionals dedicated to personally promoting humanism and a significant contingent of college students. Battle-tested humanists attend courses as part of their personal lifetime learning goals; young people are beginning to question belief systems and the institutions that promulgate them. At the Institute, ideas and experiences are exchanged across generations. This is done in the context of challenging coursework, though it is safe to say that the best learning often takes place outside the classroom. Most important, young and old meet and learn from one other. Each participant gains insight from fellow humanists with whom they can develop longtime friendships, work alongside, and even plan for the future.

The Council actively promotes this type of synergy, deliberately marshaling and combining an array of talent and resources to ensure that humanist influence and values flourish in the years ahead.

We cannot escape the reality that many of the humanists we have learned from and have been inspired by will inevitably leave us. The renowned leaders who first stood on the barricades when Free Inquiry was founded 20 years ago work alongside the new leaders whom we are helping to develop. Today's Institute makes it possible, for instance, for Derek Araujo, Paula Duckworth, Chris Mooney, and other Campus Freethought Alliance leaders to learn from distinguished teachers like Ted Schick, Robert Price, and Eugenie Scott. The torch will be passed on . . . how and how brightly it will glow remains to be seen.

The Institute is a forceful expression of the Council's pledge to preserve and uphold the values we share as humanists. We have charted the growth and evolution of the Institute, but we depend on the humanist community to help us execute these plans. You can support the Institute in many ways and on many levels. Consider sponsoring the new leader of your local ASHS group or a promising student whom you know. Charitable gifts can be designated openly, also, to help us cover the travel and board costs of the students we select for scholarships. Pronounce your personal commitment to promoting humanist values by commemorating a loved one or special teacher by making a gift in his or her name to the Institute. Establish a scholarship fund for worthy students of any age who could not otherwise attend the Institute. And dare to link your name and your vision to your contribution to the Center for Inquiry Institute, though anonymous contributions are gratefully received too. We need humanists to come forward. Ultimately, in this crucial phase of the Institute's growth, a donor willing to endow the Institute, or provide seed funding over a five-year period, will ensure the success of this very ambitious effort. Such a donor would certainly deserve to be called a founder.

As we attempt to serve more people in more places, we are gearing up to regularly offer weekend courses in different parts of the country. These are the events that really introduce future leaders to humanism. Weekend courses can be underwritten by a group or individual. In fact, the Institute course on the History of Naturalism, being offered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, this September 23-24, 1999, is being sponsored by an individual who lives near North Carolina's Research Triangle. The Institute can also work with donors interested in sponsoring a lecture, or even a regular lecture series, which expresses their personal commitment to humanism and learning. And, with technology creating so many options, philanthropic support can make it possible to expand into "distance learning" over the Internet and through broadcast media.

SHB readers may be surprised by the following update. In the Winter 1998/99 SHB, I discussed humanists' envy of the religionists' "broadcasting" capability. Shortly thereafter, Media Inquiry Productions, our Amherst-based production arm, thought it had successfully negotiated to broadcast a weekly half-hour program on a local radio station. The radio station suddenly reversed course, saying that there was no airtime available. This was a setback to the experimental programming we are developing and to long-range plans to distribute humanist radio programming. We have paused, but certainly will not cease efforts in this area. However, all the top-rated news/talk stations in town are now owned by a single company. So getting shut out of one of them shuts us out of all. We continue to search for an open time slot on a station that has adequate ratings in the Buffalo area and charges a reasonable price for its time, but so far we have had no luck. Doesn't this type of de facto censorship makes the monolithic expansion of religious programming on the airwaves all that more insidious?

Please send comments and contributions to Anthony Battaglia, CSH Development Director, P.O. Box 664, Amherst, NY 14226-0664; telephone, (716)636-7571 ext. 311; e-mail cfianthony@aol.com

Anthony Battaglia is Council for Secular Humanism Development director.

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This page was last updated 12/04/2003

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