The only thing that disappointed John Bleed ’17 about the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) Summer Scholars June program in Washington, D.C., was that he couldn’t bring AEI back to Furman. Or so the political science/history double major thought—until he found out about the AEI Executive Council.
“It might be kind of surprising I’m taking the time to start this new campus group when I only have one year left, but this opportunity was presented to me over the summer, and I thought about it for a while. Do I really want to commit my senior year by adding one more thing to the list?” Bleed, who participates in The Bell Tower Boys a cappella group, the Reformed University Fellowship, and the Riley Institute, said. “I was a bit hesitant at first.”
Ultimately, though, the opportunity to “create an environment where there’s free-flowing debate without any kind of negative or emotional circumstances” was too important to pass up.
“We really think that’s fundamental to a healthy America,” Bleed said. “I wanted to bring that to Furman. I want to encourage the mentality that it’s ok to talk to each other and have different opinions.”
The first step will be taken on Oct. 4 at Hartness Pavilion when Dalibor Rohac, Ph.D., presents “Britain, the European Union, and the Future of the Western World,” a talk that will focus on “Brexit,” the United Kingdom’s vote over the summer to leave the European Union (EU).
Rohac, a native of Slovakia, advocates reforming and improving the EU. He’s a research fellow at AEI as well as a visiting junior fellow at the Max Beloff Centre for the Study of Liberty at the University of Buckingham and a fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs in London.
Political science professor Brent Nelsen, Ph.D., Bleed’s advisor, will serve as a moderator.
“I’m really looking forward to having Dr. Rohac on our campus,” Nelsen, who teaches courses in European politics, said. “The American Enterprise Institute is a fantastic organization, and I’m glad to partner with them to discuss an issue that has been on my mind almost 24/7 since the end of June. Students and community members will be able to hear from a scholar who has lived and worked in both Brussels and London and understands both sides well.”
A semester studying abroad in Brussels, home of the EU, convinced Bleed that he wanted to pursue a career in international relations. It also gave the Chicago native a special appreciation for the complexities of the Brexit vote.
“I was able to see everything first hand and see how the European Union worked; why some people don’t really like the European Union, and why some people are really dissatisfied with what’s going on,” he said. “So it’s an issue that’s very close to me.”
Bleed has recruited several underclassmen with similar interests to help with getting the AEI Executive Council off the ground, and he hopes to present two or three more big talks in addition to some smaller ones before the year is over in hopes of the organization becoming a permanent part of campus. AEI calls itself a “public policy think tank” dedicated to promoting free enterprise, among other things, and while officially non-partisan in 2014 Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post dubbed AEI “the dominant conservative think tank” in the country.
Started in 2013, the AEI Executive Council program operates under the mantra that “the competition of ideas is fundamental to a free society,” and members “work every day to ensure the best arguments on every side of pressing public policy issues are heard by students on campus” through lectures, private dinners, student debates, reading groups, film and debate viewings, and writing op-eds.
“It kind of set itself apart for me because they stress how much they value people disagreeing with them,” Bleed said. “It’s not every day that a scholar from a prestigious group like the American Enterprise Institute visits Furman, and I’m really just excited to jump start a new group on campus this way.”
Free and open to the public, the event begins at 7 p.m. and is part of Furman’s Cultural Life Program.