Great Issues: Still searching for speakers

Another semester is nearing its end, and the Great Issues Committee has yet to bring any big-name speakers to Saint Louis University.

“From a programmatic point of view, they were at the wrong place at the beginning of the year,” said Student Government Association President Mike Rozier. It takes at least four or five months to book a big-name speaker, so the GIC was a whole semester behind, he said.

“I told them to take the fall to plan for spring,” Rozier said. He emphasized that the committee is currently undergoing restructuring, which is the main reason for the lack of speakers on campus this semester.

Committee Chair John Eckert explained that they are rebuilding the financing structure, basing it on the calendar year instead of the school year, which makes it easier to program events in advance. “We’re conserving money this semester to use for spring,” Eckert said.

Eckert said there are a few names GIC is currently considering for this spring, including Dr. Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking. Prejean, who is also a nun, is against capital punishment.

John Grisham is another name they are considering, though he may not be available until next fall, Eckert said.

Money is also an issue. GIC receives just under $40,000 in funding each school year. This may seem like a large amount, but is merely chump change, considering that a well-known speaker like Bill Cosby charges more than $100,000, Rozier said. When GIC brought Margaret Thatcher to SLU in the 1998-99 school year, the committee used a year and a half’s allotted funding, he said.

“We want to bring someone who will draw big crowds,” Eckert said. “It’s hard to spend a couple thousand dollars on a speaker and only have 20 students attend.”

GIC did sponsor the JUSTICE conference held at SLU earlier this year, as well as Bishop Wilton Gregory, who is scheduled to speak on Nov. 19.

Rozier, however, said he would like to have seen more student debates, such as one about residence halls or parking.

“There are a lot of untapped resources for free speakers,” Rozier said. He mentioned names such as Bob Costas or Mark Lamping, who would be available at a lower cost for GIC, yet still draw large crowds of students.

Eckert said the committee would like to do more debate-like events that incorporate student involvement. He also mentioned that they have been working on getting Costas to come to campus, but since he is a free speaker, it is difficult to schedule a specific date.

“We should expect topics we’re interested in and experts on those topics, not big names,” Rozier said. “By no means are we maximizing our potential. There is incredible room for growth. I’m cautiously optimistic about spring.”

Students with ideas for debates or speakers are welcome to attend the open meetings every Monday at 9 p.m. in Notre Dame, room 118, or contact Eckert.