The University of Pennsylvania has named Sigal Ben-Porath as the Faculty Director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Paideia Program. President Liz Magill and Provost John L. Jackson Jr. made the announcement today.
Ben-Porath, who will assume the role Sept. 1, is the MRMJJ Presidential Professor of Education in the Graduate School of Education with secondary appointments in the Department of Philosophy and the Department of Political Science in the School of Arts & Sciences. She is a world-renowned scholar of democratic theory and practice, especially the role of schools and colleges as democratic institutions and hubs of free speech and civil discourse. She is the author of the widely influential “Free Speech on Campus” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), as well as “Cancel Wars: How Universities Can Foster Free Speech, Promote Inclusion, and Renew Democracy“ (University of Chicago Press, 2023); “Making Up Our Mind: What School Choice is Really About” (co-authored with Michael C. Johanek, University of Chicago Press, 2019); “Tough Choices: Structured Paternalism and the Landscape of Choice” (Princeton University Press, 2010); and “Citizenship Under Fire: Democratic Education in Times of Conflict” (Princeton University Press, 2006), among many other books, presentations, and essays in both scholarly journals and popular media.
A professor at Penn since 2004, Ben-Porath has served as special assistant to the president for community outreach, chair of the Committee on Open Expression, chair of the Penn Press Faculty Advisory Board, and a founding board member of the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy. She has also been a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Human Values at Princeton University, the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, and the Safra Center for Ethics at Tel Aviv University. She earned a Ph.D. in political philosophy and an MA in the philosophy of education from Tel Aviv University and a BA in philosophy and education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She succeeds Michael X. Delli Carpini, the founding faculty director of the SNF Paideia Program, who retired from Penn as Oscar H. Gandy Professor of Communication and Democracy and currently serves as interim dean of the Annenberg School for Communication.
“We are so very pleased that Sigal Ben-Porath will take up the role of faculty director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Paideia Program at this transitional moment in the program’s growth and development,” said President Liz Magill. “This is a pioneering effort that engages our undergraduate students with skills and knowledge to engage in dialogue across lines of differences, a vital skill in today’s world. There are few if any faculty scholars anywhere more qualified to lead this effort than Professor Ben-Porath, whose expertise, experience, and leadership in issues of free speech and civil discourse have earned high international regard.”
The SNF Paideia Program, founded in 2019 with a generous grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), reimagines the ancient Greek ideal of paideia—“education of the whole person”—to provide Penn undergraduate students with the skills, knowledge, ethics, and experiences to integrate their civic identities with their personal and professional identities and to understand how their individual well-being is inseparable from the well-being of the communities to which they belong. In particular, the program’s courses and events encourage Penn students to lead informed and respectful dialogue on contentious issues facing the nation and the world, even across ideological, cultural, and demographic divides.
“Sigal Ben-Porath is one of the world’s most powerful and eloquent advocates for the role of universities in sustaining free speech and civil dialogue,” said Jackson. “She is the ideal scholar to take on the leadership of our pioneering SNF Paideia Program, which aims to instill these values in our students, who will go out to shape the world of the future. It will be exciting to see the impact that they all will make on our shared global communities in the critical years ahead.”
SNF—whose co-president, Andreas Dracopoulos, is a proud Penn graduate, Wharton Class of 1986—is one of the world’s leading private, international philanthropic organizations, making grants in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and sports, and social welfare. Since 1996, the Foundation has committed more than $3.5 billion through more than 5,300 grants to nonprofit organizations in 134 nations around the world. Supporting civic engagement and civil discourse is a key focus in SNF’s grantmaking.