40+ Years of Critical Issues

The Frances Willson Thompson Critical Issues Forum is one of the signature events of the University of Michigan-Flint. For more than four decades, campus and community have gathered to hear world-renowned speakers share their words of wisdom with the collective conscience.

Frances Willson Thompson is the namesake for the Forum, but Critical Issues is truly bigger than any one individual. It is a community treasure. It is a chance for all of us to interact with the leading thinkers and experts of our times. To have national conversations on our campus in the heart of our community is an important, valuable experience.

The boldfaced names that have spoken with us are the individuals who are part of the highest echelons of power and prestige both in this country and around the world. Nobel prize winners. Cabinet members. Cultural icons. Scientific trailblazers. All have shared their insight on myriad issues we face as a society. And what better place to have those conversations than in a university setting where the exchange of ideas is essential to the academic experience?

We have looked back at the rich history of the Critical Issues Forum, recalling the many speakers and topics, discovering interesting new facts and stories about the event from over the years.

Beginning in 1977


Initially, Thompson funds targeted issues related almost exclusively to economics.

  • 11/1: Paul W. McCracken – University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Distinguished University Professor of Business Economics and former Chairman, Council of Economic Advisors
  • 11/8: Theodore Eck – Standard Oil Company of Indiana energy economist
  • 11/16: David I. Fand – University of Michigan Ann Arbor Distinguished University Professor of Business Economics and former Chairman, Council of Economic Advisors


When the series first got underway, there were fewer speakers, and often times the speakers were UM-Flint or UM faculty members.

  • 10/31: Andrew F. Brimmer – Head of his own financial and economic consulting firm and former member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
  • 11/7: Dennis F. Ellis – University of Michigan-Flint business economist
  • 11/21: William E. Cooper – Zoologist and then-Chairman of the Environmental Review Board, Michigan State University
  • 11/28: Harold T. Shapiro – Professor of Economics and Public Policy and then-Vice President for Academic Affairs, University of Michigan Ann Arbor

1978 News Release


Through the first five years, the series was dubbed “The American Economy and the Business Community.”

  • 10/17: Murray L. Weidenbaum – Washington University, Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor of Economics and subsequently Chairman, Council of Economic Advisors
  • 10/30: Edward J. Mitchell – Energy economist, University of Michigan Ann Arbor
  • 11/14: Dennis F. Ellis – University of Michigan-Flint business economist

1979 Flyer

The 1980s


No speakers this year.


5/6: David I. Fand – Wayne State University economist

5/20: Richard T. Curtin – Survey Research Center, University of Michigan Ann Arbor

Flyer Announcing 1981's lineup for "The American Economy and the Business Community


12/7: Walter Adams – Distinguished University Professor of Economics, Michigan State University

Walter Adams


  • 1/11: Herbert Dow (Ted) Doan – Venture capitalist and former President, Dow Chemical Company
  • 2/18: David E. Cole – Director, Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

1984 – 1991

There was an extended break from between the years of 1984 through 1991. A few speakers came to campus on various topics, but there was no formal program or luncheon series. Thompson funds were used for library construction and other programming.

The 1990s


This marks the first year the series was offically titled the “Critical Issues Forum.” The theme was National Healthcare.

Bioethicist Arthur Caplan is the only Critical Issues Forum (CIF) speaker to appear three times: once in 1992, once in 1996, and again in 2010.

Arthur Caplan

  • Joseph A. Califano, Jr. – 12th U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
  • Stephen H. Long – Senior Economist, RAND Corporation
  • Judith Feder – Principal deputy assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton
  • Cheryl Anderson-Small – Researches nutrition-related issues in chronic disease prevention in minority and under-served populations.
  • Holly Gail Atkinson – Assistant Professor of Public Health at Weill Medical College of Cornell University
  • Uwe E. Reinhardt – James Madison Professor of Political Economy at Princeton University
  • Arthur L. Caplan – Emmanuel and Robert Hart Professor of Bioethics and director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania


In 1993, CIF held an event called “Creative Responses to Economic Development in Industrial Communities.” It was a 3-day, 19-session analytic review with more than 20 presenters.

Irving Bluestone


  • Irving and Barry Bluestone – Former UAW Vice President and his son, UM-trained economist and faculty member of the University of Massachusetts in Boston; co-authors of the 1992 book “Negotiating the Future: A Labor Perspective on American Business”
  • Bennett Harrison – Professor of political economy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz School of Public Policy and Management
  • Neil Seldman – President and co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Washington, D.C.
  • Thomas W. Croft – Executive Director of the Steel Valley Authority
  • Jim Oliver – Director of the Portland West Neighborhood Planning Council, Portland, ME.
  • Beverly A. Ciglar – The role of the policy entrepreuneur in responding to economic development in industrial communities
  • Pamela M. Wynn – Director of Bloomsburg University’s Institute for Enterprise Development
  • Michael Gallis – Associate Professor of architecture and Urban Institute Fellow, University of North Carolina at Charlotte


4/13: Bernard Kalb – CNN News Moderator

Bernard Kalb

CIF has given local media the opportunity to engage with thoughtleaders as well.

Bernard Kalb in Flint


  • 3/29: Abba Eban – Former Israeli Ambassador
  • 4/19: John Silber – Member of the bipartisan commission on Central America under President Reagan; author of “Straight Shooting”
  • 5/3: William Raspberry – Syndicated Columnist
  • 5/24: Mae Jemison – NASA Astronaut 

1995 Brochure


Planning for Critical Issues is an ongoing, year-long event. Though the cover of this CIFbrochure references the “1996 Frances Wilson Thompson Critical Issues Forum,” all speaking engagements occured in the spring of 1997.

  • 4/9: Marlin Fitzwater – Former press secretary to Presidents Reagan and Bush
  • 4/23: Cokie Roberts – ABC News correspondent
  • 5/7: Robert Kennedy, Jr. – Senior attorney for the National Resources Defense Council
  • 5/21: Alexa Canady – Neurosurgeon at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, first African-American female neurosurgeon

1996 Brochure


5/1: Sherry Turkle – Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science at MIT and author of “Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet”

Sherry Turkle


  • 4/13: Molly Ivins – Political humorist, syndicated columnist
  • 4/28: Gerald & Nancy Jaax – co authors “The Hot Zone.” Topic: biohazards and germ warfare
  • 5/4: P.J. O’Rourke – Foreign Affairs Editor Rolling Stone Magazine. Author of “Parliament of Whores,” “Give War a Chance,” and “All the Trouble in the World”
  • 5/19: Ronald Takaki – Professor of ethnic studies at University of California, Los Angeles, author. Topic: Multiculturalism

P. J. O'Rourke

The 2000s


Ranjit Kumar Chandraabc – Biochemistry, genetics, and molecular biology


No speakers this year.


  • 4/2: Jean Chatzky – Financial expert, radio host, author
  • 5/7: Ellen Goodman – Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, author
  • 5/14: Raymond Tanter – Founder of Iran Policy Committee
  • 5/22: David Gergen – Senior Political Analyst for CNN

David Gergen


  • 4/9: Barry Asmus, Ph.D. – “Freedom, Limited Government and Public Policy”
  • 4/16: Alice M. Rivlin, Ph.D. – “How to Think about Social Security and the Retirement Crisis”
  • 5/6: John McLaughlin, Ph.D. – “Foreign Policy and Business”
  • 5/20: Guy Kawasaki – “Rules for Revolutionaries”

John McLaughlin


Due to the popularity of CIF, the event moved in 2004 from the Michigan Rooms where seating was limited to 250 people to the Northbank Center Ballroom where seating increased to 330 people.

  • 4/14: John Stossel – Award-winning journalist, author
  • 4/21: Diana Eck – Topic: A New Religious America
  • 5/3: Jared Diamond – Author of “Guns, Germs, and Steel”
  • 5/12: Randall Kennedy – Author, professor at Harvard Law School; Topic: The Race Line in America

Jared Diamond


  • 4/14: Patti Davis – Author, daughter of President Reagan
  • 4/20: David Brooks – New York Times Columnist
  • 4/27: Minnijean Brown-Trickey – Civil Rights Leader
  • 5/4: George Mitchell – Senator, International Leader
  • 5/11: E. O. Wilson – Pulitzer Prize Winning Scientist

George Mitchell


  • 4/26: Jeffrey Sachs – Economist, author
  • 5/4: Judy Woodruff – CNN anchor, “Inside Politics”
  • 5/17: Juan Enriquez – Founder of Biotechonomy
  • 5/24: Arun Gandhi – Leader of peace organization

Judy Woodruff


  • 4/19: Julia E. Sweig – Author and Expert in Latin America Affairs
  • 4/23: Atul Gawande – Professor, Harvard Medical School, author of “Better”
  • 5/3: Bob Woodward – Investigative Journalist and Author, broke Watergate Scandal
  • 5/10: David Suzuki – Award-winning Scientist, Environmentalist, Broadcaster
  • 5/16: R. James Woolsey – Former CIA Director, Diplomat, Arms Negotiator

Bob Woodward


  • 4/10: Ken Burns – Award-winning Documentary Filmmaker
  • 4/16: David Magnus – Professor at Stanford University and Biomedical Ethics Expert
  • 4/24: Bob Beckel and Cal Thomas – co-writers of USAToday’s “Common Ground” Column
  • 5/8: Peter Bergen – CNN Global Terrorism Analyst and Best-Selling Author

Ken Burns


  • 4/23: Jerome Ringo – Environmental Pioneer
  • 4/29: David Walton – Global Health Expert
  • 5/7: Zanny Minton-Beddoes – U.S. Economics Editor
  • 5/14: Newt Gingrich – Former U.S. Speaker of the House

2009 Brochure

The 2010s


  • 3/23: David Kessler, M.D. – Industrialized Food
  • 4/1: Christopher Paul Curtis – UM-Flint Alum, Award-winning author
  • 4/8: Arthur Caplan, Ph.D. – Bioethics: Because We Can, Should We?
  • 4/15: Madeleine Albright – Former Secretary of State on “The United States and the Global Stage”
  • 4/22: Brent Pollina – The Economic Revitalization of Flint

Madeline Albright


  • 3/17: Geoffrey Canada – Education
  • 3/28: Joseph Stiglitz – Economics
  • 4/7: Gwen Ifill – Journalism
  • 4/13: Norman Doidge – Brain Science
  • 5/9: Bill McKibben – Climate Change

Gwen Ifill


  • 3/6: Isabel Wilkerson – Reinventing Society Through Migration
  • 3/21: Brian Green  – Reinventing String Theory
  • 3/29: Maude Barlow – Reinventing the Right to Water
  • 4/3: Cary Nelson – Reinventing Higher Education
  • 4/11: Nate Silver – Reinventing Political Polling
  • 4/26: William McDonough – Innovation for a Future of Abundance


  • 3/13: Tom Root – Harnessing the Power of the 1099 Workforce
  • 3/19: Michael Sandel – Justice, Ethics, Citizenship
  • 3/27: Mickey Edwards – Our Political Divide
  • 4/2: Susan Cain – The Quiet Power of Introverts
  • 4/10: Victor Strecher – Innovations in Health Care


  • 3/11: Emily Bazelon – Author of Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy
  • 4/3: George Will – Political Writer, Author, and Commentator
  • 4/8: Gary Taubes – Author of Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It
  • 4/17: Reza Aslan – Author and Scholar of Religions
  • 5/8: Roberta Kaplan – Lawyer for Civil Rights


  • 3/11: Charles Duhigg – Author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
  • 4/8: Lisa Ling – Executive Producer and host of This is Life on CNN
  • 4/15: Antonia Darder, Ph.D. – Leavey Presidential Endowed Chair of Ethics and Moral Leadership, Loyola Marymount University
  • 4/22: Reshma Saujani – Author and Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code


  • 10/28: Jeff Hobbs – Author of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League
  • 11/18: Angela Duckworth, Ph.D. – Psychologist and Researcher
  • 3/23: John Quiñones – Journalist and Anchor of What Would You Do?
  • 4/4: Matt Taibbi – Author of The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap


  • 10/5: Tracie McMillan - Author of The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table
  • 11/14: Josh Linkner - Entrepreneur and author of The Road to Reinvention
  • 3/7: Sarah Lewis - Author of The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery
  • 3/12: Elizabeth Kolbert - Author of The Sixth Extinction


  • 10/5: Story Musgrave - Astronaut/Scientist
  • 11/2: Dan Heath - Co-Author of Made to Stick and Decisive
  • 3/28: Shiza Shahid - Founding GP of NOW Ventures
  • 4/11: Baron Batch - Athlete/Artist


  • 10/2:  Dr. Jane Goodall - Ethologist & Conservationist
  • 11/29:  Kari Byron - Mythbuster & Author of Crash Test Girl
  • 3/20:  Daniel Lerner - Author & Educator, Author of U Thrive: How to Succeed in College (and Life)
  • 4/10:  Shabnam Mogharabi - Social Entrepreneur