Since 1988, the Forum has brought a diversity of viewpoints on international and public policy issues to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the citizens of the state in order to promote understanding and to encourage debate. On February 25, 1988 the initial coordinating committee met at the Cooper Foundation offices in Lincoln, Nebraska. The president of the Foundation, E.N. "Jack" Thompson, had conceived of a forum on international issues as a way to increase Nebraskans' understanding of the people and cultures of other countries and the challenges that face them, and us. Our board of trustees agreed and pledged to provide major funding. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln shared that commitment and agreed to co-sponsor the Forum, providing major logistical and management support, as well as financial support. In 1990, the Foundation and the University honored Jack's leadership by re-naming the Forum. What had been known as the "Cooper Foundation-UNL Forum on World Issues" would become the E.N. Thompson Forum on World Issues.
Since then, the Forum has provided Nebraskans four to five lectures each year featuring experts on Russia, China, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, and indigenous peoples of North America and the world. Our speakers have addressed issues of human rights, national and global security, terrorism, the environment, infectious disease, war, the environment, democracy, religion, and many others.
From 2002 – 2013 the Forum presented the Lewis E. Harris Lecture on Public Policy. The Harris Lecture, now under the auspices of UNL’s College of Business Administration, was endowed at the University by the SmithKline Corporation in honor of Lewis E. Harris, their former Chair and the founder of Harris Laboratories (now MDS Pharma Services). This annual lecture examines major public policy issues and provides a special opportunity for interaction between students and the business and academic communities in Nebraska.
In 2007 Chuck and Linda Wilson created the Charles and Linda Wilson Dialogue on Domestic Issues with the belief that people should hear more than one side of an important issue. Therefore, each Wilson Dialog features a moderated debate between two experts with differing points of view.
The E.N. Thompson International Scholars Learning Community at UNL annually serves about 20 students who have been chosen based on their interest in global issues. The goal of this academic learning community is to provide first-year students with the opportunity to explore world issues, engage in service-learning that augments classroom experience, and to participate in E.N. Thompson Forum events, including an opportunity to meet with each speaker for a discussion prior to the lecture.