The Aurora Forum at Stanford University is part of a history of free public programs that goes back to the University's founding. Leland Stanford Junior University opened in October 1891, and by December of that year President David Starr Jordan—an educator who believed that "the final end of education is not learning or official position, but service to humanity"—launched a fortnightly public lecture forum intended "to share the fine specialists on this campus and their knowledge with the community."
In 1917, Stanford's third president, Ray Lyman Wilbur and his Committee on Public Exercises, turned Jordan's idea into a series of weekly lectures, recitals, concerts, and addresses "of interest and of benefit to every intelligent person" who might attend. This Tuesday Evening Series ran until 1966, when it was renamed The University Lecture Series and offered on a variable schedule. The Tuesday Night Series was revived in 1972, but failed to regain its lost momentum. When plans for the Aurora Forum began in conversations had by Mark Gonnerman and the Dean of Continuing Studies, Charles Junkerman, in the fall of 2001, this program became part of a venerable Stanford tradition.
Stanford Continuing Studies, whose mission is to bring the University's educational resources to neighboring communities for their enrichment and intellectual invigoration, served as home-base and founding sponsor of the Aurora Forum. Provost John Etchemendy and the Dean of Continuing Studies provided financial and organizational support, and Mark Gonnerman became director of the Forum in the fall of 2002. In the fall of 2006, the Forum moved from Continuing Studies to Stanford's Office of Public Affairs. Since the fall of 2009 it has been housed under Stanford Lively Arts, the on-campus performing arts presentation and education organization guided by executive director Jennifer Bilfield.
Since our inaugural program in January 2003, the Aurora Forum has enjoyed tremendous success. This ongoing series of public conversations on the theme of "Exploring American Ideals" (2003-04) and "Exploring Democratic Ideals, Inspiring Social Hope" (2004- ) has featured, among others, Laurie Anderson, Michael Beschloss, Leonard Cohen, the Dalai Lama, Angela Davis, Wade Davis, Larry Diamond, Paul Ehrlich, Joycelyn Elders, Arun Gandhi, Phillip Glass, Amy Goodman, Jay Harris, Julia Butterfly Hill, Pico Iyer, Dahr Jamail, David Kennedy, Billie Jean King, Michael Krasny, Lewis Lapham, Daniel Levitin, Frances Moore Lappé, Lawrence Lessig, Larry Marshall, Jacob Needleman, Geoff Nunberg, Helen Prejean, Jack Rakove, Steve Reich, Richard Rodriguez, Richard Rorty, Ananya Roy, Amartya Sen, Anthony Shadid, Rebecca Solnit, Kathleen Sullivan, Deborah Tannen, Robert Thurman, Alice Waters, Cornel West, Mark Whitaker and Gordon Wood. In a short time, the Aurora Forum at Stanford University has established itself as a first-rate West Coast venue for substantive and engaging dialogue.
Many of our programs have been broadcast on KQED Public Radio. Conversations are archived on our website in audio, video, and transcript formats. Please visit our archive by clicking here.
The Aurora Forum serves as a bridge between Stanford and a broad public eager for high quality ideas and information. We welcome your participation.
Thanks for your interest,
Mark Gonnerman, Ph.D.