100 Years of Educational Excellence: Focus on the Speaker Series
This month’s celebration of a century of higher education moves out of the classroom and into the auditorium, where, for decades now, Principia College has welcomed a wide range of speakers as a way of enhancing students’ learning and broadening their perspectives.
No doubt, Principia hosted guest speakers from its earliest years, but “the official record begins with the 1936 School of Government Program,” explains Tim Booth, the College’s special events director. “In a letter from the Dean of the College,” Booth says, “Professor Clayton D. Ford was instructed to ‘bring three or four men a year to deliver lectures under guidance of the professor in government.’ The program’s annual budget of $2,500 was donated by Mrs. Angie W. Cox of Walworth, Wisconsin.” (Decades later, Mrs. Cox would provide much of the funding for Cox Auditorium.)
A few years later, another avenue for on-campus speakers opened up when the School of Government sponsored the first Public Affairs Conference (PAC) in 1939. With the world on the brink of war, the conference title, “Making Democracy Work,” seemed almost inevitable. Approximately 50 delegates from 12 colleges attended working panels and heard keynote speakers—a conference format that remains largely intact today. This year’s PAC, “Peacebuilding: A New Approach to Conflict Resolution,” takes place March 22–24. Ten speakers will be featured, including a former child soldier and a Christian Science lecturer.
Concurrent with the activities of the School of Government Program, a committee (whose name changed several times over the years) booked speaking engagements at the College from the 30s through the mid-90s. Many notable guests addressed students during this time, including Enrico Fermi, the physicist known for his work on the first nuclear reactor. Fermi spoke between the two world wars; Buckminster Fuller and Dick Gregory spoke during the 1970s.
Speaker Series gets a boost
When Dr. George Moffett became College president in 1996, an already strong speaker series got even better. Booth emphasizes the value to the series of “Moffett’s acquaintance with numerous global leaders through his previous posts as White House staffer in the Carter administration and Middle East Bureau Chief for The Christian Science Monitor.”
Just a year after Moffett arrived, the Office of Special Events, which he created, inaugurated both the George A. Andrews Distinguished Speaker Series, endowed by a grant from a generous Principia friend, and the Ernie and Lucha Vogel Moral Courage Lecture Series. Early speakers in the Andrews Series include Margaret Thatcher, George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Colin Powell, and Sandra Day O’Connor. This year’s Andrews Distinguished Speaker was Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist George Will. The first Vogel Series speaker was Nien Cheng; others include John Lewis, Morris Dees, Jeffrey Wigand, and Paul Rusesabagina. This year’s Moral Courage speaker was foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan.
Monitor Night Live tradition continues
Another staple of the Speaker Series is Monitor Night Live, which Moffett also initiated. As Booth notes, “Moffett thought it especially important for Principia students to be well informed about the news of the day and to feel a sense of familiarity with Monitor writers.” The program—featuring a panel of journalists moderated by the editor—has fostered that “sense of familiarity” annually since 1996 (with the exception of one or two missed years).
Typically, both domestic and foreign correspondents participate in Monitor Night Live, but with U.S. elections looming, Editor John Yemma focused primarily on domestic issues this year. Joining him in Wanamaker Hall last week were Linda Feldmann and Gail Russell Chaddock. Patrik Jonsson and Mark Trumbull participated virtually. Popular topics included the Tea Party and Occupy movements, Congress, Super PACs, and the economy.
Midway through the evening, Yemma paused the political discussion to provide listeners an update on the Monitor itself, noting that the paper just had its best year financially since 1963 and that both page views and unique site visitors are up considerably. As with all online news sources, however, the Monitor is working to extend the time visitors spend on its site. “That deeper engagement,” Yemma points out, “is essential not only for revenue but for visitors to get the full benefit of the Monitor‘s mission.”
Monitor Night Live is an excellent example of the many benefits students reap from Principia’s Speaker Series.
(See the list of speakers in this year’s series.)