Staff Editorial

Once upon a time, Lawrence held daily chapel services which students were required to attend. Since the late 1920s, however, those services have been replaced with more intermittent “convocations- “all-college assemblies,” according to the original 1926 definition. Although we are not forced to attend them today, the library and cafeteria close their doors in a not-so-subtle reminder that the university would like us to place institutional
tradition above our personal schedules.
Although any formal definition of the purpose of convocations is somewhat indeterminate, the implication is that convocations are supposed
to unite the university, to bring us together in intellectualism and the reception of new ideas. From something which began as a prescribed religious habit – the chapel service – came something different, but not without the taint of institutional unity – the convocation.
Jill Beck made the bold move at the beginning of the year to propose the importance of a value – yes, a moral value – as a unifying principle of our university. Most of us agreed that altruism is acceptable. President Beck was not claiming that we should all become Catholic, or take up alchemy, or highlight our hair – nothing irrational and controversial like that. Still, the proposal of a set of values put upon us as Lawrence students was a reminder that, although we are part of a secular college, there is a constant question of what exactly we stand for as members of this institution,
which, by definition, must have some unifying features.
Convocation speakers, from the very beginning of the current tradition,
have tended to be liberals and proponents of activism. The Lawrence website identifies William Sloane Coffin, a civil rights and anti-war protester
as well as Yale chaplain, as the first to fill the role of convocation speaker as we know it today, in 1976. Thus, when Jill Beck spoke on community
engagement in September, she drew from a long history of support for such commitments at Lawrence.
Are convocation speakers filtered so as to reflect the biases of a majority
of Lawrentians? That might be true, to a certain extent. A wide variety of speakers are brought in, but most of the diversity comes from academic fields, not political or ethical standings. Still, some more controversial speakers do make appearances, usually within other lecture series, such as the Main Hall Forum. This year, Lawrence scheduled two speakers on religion with starkly contrasting views: objectivist Andrew Bernstein and Mark Noll, professor of Christian thought at Wheaton College. Though a large proportion of Lawrence students would strongly disagree with both speakers, it is important that we take heed of such viewpoints. Although hearing speakers who inspire and reaffirm our own values is crucial, it is only those with unfamiliar views who can spark the kind of analysis and reevaluation necessary to the vitality of our own political and ethical beliefs. The inclusion of speakers with different views, then, should be an important element in each lecture series at Lawrence, whether it be the Main Hall Forum, the Science Hall Colloquiums, or the Convocation Series itself