The Distinguished Speakers Series, a program that hosted globally acclaimed speakers every semester, was cut from the university’s programs.
Headed by Harbour Winn, a film and literature professor emeritus, and Robin Meyers, a rhetoric/philosophy professor, the Distinguished Speakers Series included speakers like Kurt Vonnegut, Jane Goodall, Elie Wiesel, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Each event was free and open to the public.
“It was such an amazing and successful series,” said Meyers, whose initial idea founded the program. “We had huge crowds, especially for speakers like Kurt Vonnegut, where we even claimed interest from other universities like OU.”
Some speakers in the series caused controversy in the area and inspired a subsequent dialogue from opposing viewpoints. One such case that gained a high amount of attention and discourse was the first speaker in Spring 2000, Morris Dees. Dees is an anti-hate group activist and the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Dees’s visit to OCU provoked protests from the Ku Klux Klan.
“We are a liberal arts university. We believe in offering students diverse points of view without espousing any one perspective,” Winn said. “The people that were provocative only provoked certain, isolated mindsets.”
The program hosted its final speakers, poets Brian Turner and Dunya Mikhail, in February 2015. Officials cut the program’s funding as part of a university-wide prioritization.
Prioritization allowed officials to see where university money was being spent and determine if changes should be made.
“We went through a process to prioritize what were the most important things on campus and where the fat was, so to speak,” Winn said. “The Distinguished Speakers Series was fat.”
Dawson MacLeod, acting sophomore, said the program was worth funding.
“To be able to glean such wisdom and thought from such intelligent people as Elie Wiesel would greatly heighten my collegiate experience,” MacLeod said. “It would offer opportunities for students to get something from those who have lived very important life experiences.”