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Editorial: Lecturing the Board

When the Brown Lecture Board brought former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf to campus last semester, we had high expectations. Recent speakers sponsored by Lecture Board — including outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson and former Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee — delivered engaging talks to packed audiences. Unfortunately, Musharraf's speech turned out to be a flop. We weren't thrilled to listen to the former president speak in generalities and dodge questions. We were even less thrilled to hear that Lecture Board spent a good chunk of its budget on Musharraf, depleting funding for spring semester speakers.

Not every lecture is going to be phenomenal, and Lecture Board can only do so much to ensure that speakers will give substantive talks. Still, given the amount of money the board controls and the importance of lectures to student life on campus, we have a few suggestions for how to improve the speaker selection process.
In the current process for picking speakers, board members compile a list of potential lecturers, look into their costs and availabilities and conduct a vote to make the final decisions. 

Those decisions — which this year determined the fate of $90,000 of student activities money — are made by just a handful of students. Though Lecture Board is open to everyone, only 25 students attend meetings regularly. Former co-president Alex Schwartz '10 said Lecture Board tries to reach out to campus, adding that the board holds a big table at the activities fair. That's not nearly enough of an effort to engage students and ensure that voting is representative of the student body.

In the short term, we'd like to see Lecture Board better publicize its meetings and the fact that they are open to all students. It should also try to attract more members. For example, the board typically listens to potential speakers' past speeches before signing a contract.

Why not host a speech screening night and invite students to eat pizza and watch clips of old speeches? We're sure more than 25 people would show up, especially if Lecture Board allowed attendees to cast a vote afterwards. 

In the long-term, Lecture Board should consider opening the speaker selection process to the entire student body through formal surveys. The Brown Concert Agency conducts a MyCourses poll every fall about potential Spring Weekend performers. Indeed, the BCA told The Herald this week that the top choice in the student poll — MGMT — will be part of this year's lineup.  

Surveying students would allow Lecture Board to gauge opinion on speakers who have less name recognition but promise to give provocative speeches. Moreover, it might diversify the list of potential speakers, which has been heavy on white male politicians in recent years. In addition to Huckabee, Lecture Board has sponsored speeches by Rick Santorum, John Edwards and Howard Dean. 

We'd also welcome some more transparency on behalf of Lecture Board. Schwartz told the editorial page board that picking speakers is a "pretty informal process." Any group that controls so much student money should clearly set out its voting and budgeting processes. 

At least that way, we can all take responsibility for speakers who give softball talks. And who use their lectures to promote revisionist histories of their regimes. And who, while we're at it, are just plain hard to understand. 

Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to



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