Activist, U prof conclude Great Conversations series

Elizabeth Putnam

Praise could be heard echoing throughout Ted Mann Concert Hall on Tuesday night as nearly 600 people witnessed a Great Conversation.

Cornel West, philosopher and social activist, and African-American studies professor John Wright discussed black intellectual history and the loss of documentation of black intellectuals in all aspects of written history.

“We need to talk about black intellectual history, not as a narrow discourse, but we need to talk about it as a whole,” West said. “Blacks always view oneself by the white person’s gaze.”

Wright said black writers lack representation at bookstores such as Barnes and Noble.

“(The bookstore conglomerates) leave out important strains that black booksellers carry,” he said.

Discussion topics ranged from terrorism to the cause of West’s move to Princeton University.

The colloquium concluded the Great Conversations series sponsored by the College of Continuing Education.

Margy Ligon, College of Continuing Education director of personal enrichment, wanted to create a high-profile speaker series unique to the University.

Ligon said the idea was to use University faculty who have “world-class relationships.”

“Faculty members have great connections with well-known people,” Ligon said. “It’s a way to tap into those resources.”

West has been a Harvard University faculty member since 1994 and met Wright at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute.

West is moving to Princeton because he said as a professor at Harvard his opinions were being suppressed.

“Professors don’t have options,” he said. “The first casualty in war is always truth.”

University President Mark Yudof said the Great Conversations series is meant to be a dialogue rather than a lecture or speech.

“It’s an opportunity for the audience to get more out of it by getting to know the speakers better,” he said.

The series began in January with a conversation between Yudof and political strategist Paul Begala, an adviser to former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Architectural design provided the foundation for the second conversation, between Thomas Fisher, College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture dean, and Steven Holl, Time magazine’s architect of the year.

Dr. Catherine Verfaillie, the University’s Stem Cell Institute director, and Dr. Austin Smith, Centre for Genome Research director at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, held the third conversation. Both pivotal in stem cell research, the two experts examined the research’s varying methods and outcomes.

An evaluation of the relationship between democracy and television was the fourth conversation’s focus. It featured University professor Jane Kirtley, Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law director, and Brian Lamb, creator and CEO of C-SPAN.

Ligon said six conversations are planned for next fall.

The series is airing on Twin Cities Public Television Channel 17 on Sundays at 9 p.m.