Must our liberal arts college only offer liberal convo speakers?

Timothy Schmidt

Throughout my time at Lawrence, I have had the privilege of listening to convocations delivered by people who are at the top of their respective fields: Wynton Marsalis, Robert Ballard, Lech Walesa. Every speaker has amazing credentials and incredible life experiences from which the student body can learn. Yesterday’s convocation speaker, Susan Estrich, is no different. Her rsum demands respect; in addition to her time as editor of the Harvard Law Review, she also served on the presidential campaigns of Ted Kennedy, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. I am sure that her convocation will have been thought-provoking and enriching.

Yet, conspicuously absent for the past five years have been any speakers with the slightest hint of conservative beliefs. I have listened to Cornel West and Susan Estrich, but I wonder why Lawrence has not chosen to represent the other side of the story.

The last time Lawrence invited a conspicuously conservative speaker was in 1995 when Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork spoke. Governor Tommy Thompson also spoke back in 1997, though I suspect he was invited in his capacity as governor in celebration of Lawrence’s sesquicentennial and in anticipation of Wisconsin’s the following year.

In the same time, we have had U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, Former Planned Parenthood CEO Faye Wattleton and social advocate Tony Kushner. Even men who spoke on issues without a partisan ring had Democratic credentials: former assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, former senator George Mitchell. These people have achieved great things and the university benefited from hearing them. But I refuse to believe that the university cannot find a single conservative who would give the Lawrence community balance and insight on important issues of the day.

At the first convocation that I attended in September of 1998, President Warch delivered a stirring address urging us to challenge ideas that were foreign to us and engage in spirited debate.

“Relish the challenges and be receptive to the criticisms. Rejoice and engage in the argument. Respond to the people and positions different from you and yours,” he instructed us. Those with a conservative mindset on campus had have plenty of opportunity to have their views challenged and criticized by convocation speakers, and we have grown stronger because of it. I challenge the members of the Committee on Public Occasions to extend the same courtesy towards those on the left, so we can all get a robust education and learn from speakers of a variety of political persuasions.

Only then will we all get a truly complete education in the liberal arts style.