I write this week (as Lawrence has finished its convocation series for the 2000-2001 academic year) about a topic that has been of concern to me since I made Lawrence my home. While the convocation series has become a staple of life at Lawrence, conservative convocation speakers have been conspicuously missing. I believe that in failing to adequately represent conservative opinions this university mars what would otherwise be a great service to this institution. Reviewing convocation speakers in recent history, one is confronted with a rather lengthy list of liberal speakers. One is forced to go back to January of 1997 when Tommy Thompson, then governor of Wisconsin, gave a convocation lecture on Lawrence’s sesquicentennial to find a true conservative speaker. Beyond this convocation, one must go back to the 94-95 academic year to find other conservative speakers. Since then, there have been any number of liberal speakers ranging from liberal academician Cornell West to socialist advocate Tony Kushner to former Planned Parenthood CEO Faye Wattleton, to name a few.
Do not mistake what I am saying, I feel that the convocation lectures offer students insights into topics and areas of study that they would not otherwise be privy to, and so add a lot to this university. In addition, the convocation lectures are well attended. As a result, those who attend have ample opportunity to discuss what was said and discuss the validity of the arguments. This benefits Lawrence greatly.
While Lawrence does benefit from hearing liberal speakers, I ask the question, why is it that hearing from conservative speakers would not similarly benefit the Lawrence community? By having a conservative speaker deliver a convocation lecture we will be encouraging the give and take that follows convocation speakers. Some students may question the beliefs and assumptions that they hold. But is that not the point of higher education? Such an atmosphere is stifled when there is only a monolithic set of opinions that are presented to students.
To those who hold the view that there is a lack of qualified conservative convocation candidates, I would point out that Margaret Thacther (former British Prime Minister), Sean Hannity (Fox News commentator), or George F. Will (political commentator), to take a few examples, are all highly qualified individuals. It is not as though there is no conservative opinion existent in the halls of academia. To claim that there are no quality conservative candidates available only shows that you are not looking very hard.
I hope that Lawrence will, in the future, make an attempt to represent both of the intellectual mainstreams of thought. Only when members of the Lawrence community are presented with conservative and liberal opinions can they make informed decisions about where they stand on issues. To include conservative convocation speakers, in addition to liberal convocation speakers, can only make Lawrence better.