The Distinguished Speakers Series is making its return after being on hold for four years.
The series, renamed the Martha Jean Lemons Distinguished Speakers Series, will feature Clive Thompson, technology writer and philosopher, as its first guest on Sept. 19 in Petree Recital Hall in Kirkpatrick Fine Arts Center.
The idea for the original Distinguished Speakers Series came as a replacement for the mid-year institute, a required class where students had to attend a week of lectures during Christmas break.
Dr. Robin Meyers, professor of rhetoric, came up with an alternative. At a 1999 faculty meeting, he pitched the Distinguished Speakers Series, which would bring nationally-known speakers to campus once every semester.
The series was highly successful, Meyers said. During the next 15 years, they brought nationally renowned speakers to OCU, including Desmond Tutu, Robert Kennedy Jr., Jane Goodall, and Elie Wiesel.
“I’m so proud of OCU for doing this,” Meyers said. “It was a run of amazing quality.”
In addition to the lectures, there was almost always a “student experiential component” where students got to meet the speaker in a smaller group setting. Preferential treatment was usually given to students in a major relating to the topic of the speaker.
The lectures brought people from the entire community to campus. There were usually between 2,000 and 4,000 people in attendance in Henry J. Freede Wellness and Activity Center.
“It is what a university does—we bring nationally known people who are provocative and will stimulate the thinking of students—and it was a gift to the community because it was free and open to the public,” Meyers said.
The cost of bringing the speakers to campus ranged anywhere from $15,000 to $35,000. It was paid for in part by a $25 per semester fee for students. Due to the high cost of the series, it was discontinued during the budget crisis four years ago.
“We really grieved the loss of it,” Meyers said. “I wasn’t surprised it went away because it was never an inexpensive thing, but I think it’s at the heart of what universities are supposed to do.”
The series was brought back by the help of the Lemon family, which is providing roughly half of the honorarium, Meyers said. Because of the tighter budget, there will be only one speaker per year.
Clive Thompson will give a lecture about his book, Smarter Than You Think, about how technology is changing our brains for the better.
“I suppose it is a more optimistic look at the effect of technology on our cognition,” Thompson said. “A lot of books on this are about how technology is making us stupid and idiotic and that we can’t pay attention to anything. I wrote my book in part because I didn’t think that was the complete story.”
Thompson said he hopes students will gain a better understanding of their use of technology.
“What I’m going to try to point out in the talk are some of the unexpectedly interesting ways that modern technology has amplified our awareness of other people’s thoughts, and our ability to make connections between ideas and people and things,” Thompson said. “All these things that, for centuries, were essentially impossible for the average person to use—they had to be invented and they were too expensive—suddenly, they’re part of the everyday way that we can formulate and express ideas.”
Thompson will speak at 7 p.m. Sept. 19 in Petree Recital Hall in Kirkpatrick Fine Arts Center. The event is free and open to the public.
Preceding the lecture, a small group of students will have the opportunity to meet with Thompson for a more private conversation at a 4 p.m. session in Room 151 in Walker Center. Students are to be prepared with good questions to ask, Meyers said.
Meyers is working to choose the next speaker. The goal is to try to bring either Oprah Winfrey or former President Jimmy Carter to campus in Fall 2018.
“Oprah would be amazing,” said Katelyn Jassoy, music theater and vocal performance junior. “She is a great public figure and would bring a lot of publicity to the campus.”
Meyers said he highly encourages faculty to encourage students to attend the event.
“They don’t think someone they’re gonna hear is gonna really move them, but they don’t know,” he said. “That person really might make an impression on them. I think part of our responsibility as faculty is to do the best we can to put students in contact with stimulating thinkers, and then really encourage our students to go and listen.”
Meyers said he hopes, once the community learns the series is back, it will rise to the same level as before.
“The sky is the limit if we can just come up with the money and convince the university community to participate,” he said.