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The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Lecture Fund Leader Discusses Notable Speakers

Lecture Fund, most commonly known on campus for bringing famous political speakers to campus, ignited campus-wide discussions when it brought Karl Rove, a senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, to campus. Most members of the Georgetown community will attend at least one speaker event hosted by Lecture Fund during their time on the Hilltop, but few know much about the speaker selection process or the opportunities for student participation. With the end of the academic year approaching, Dara Gold (COL ’10), the chair of Lecture Fund, agreed to sit down with The Hoya to shed light on the organization’s mission.

Many people were either excited or put off by the Karl Rove’s visit to speak at Georgetown. Why select such a sometimes polarizing speaker?

The way Lecture Fund works is that there [are] 25 associate board members that go out and find speakers. Someone from our group actively went out and asked him to lecture. We didn’t all come together and decide to invite him – someone specifically went out and invited him. It turned out not to be so difficult, logistically, because he’s a local speaker [based in the Washington, D.C. area], and he accepted our lower price.

Why did Karl Rove offer a discount to Lecture Fund?

Well, to be clear, he didn’t specifically offer a discount. The student that invited him offered him an amount of money [that] he happened to accept and [that] happened to be lower than what he normally asks for. We were all surprised and happy that he accepted our lower offer, but he also has a new book coming out, so it’s also an opportunity for him to do a book signing, get publicity on that in his local area. Sometimes [Lecture Fund and the speaker] get a really good deal like that.

Since Lecture Fund is a Student Activities Commission group, are there any effects from Georgetown University Student Association’s club finance reform that will impact the budget for next year?

We still haven’t received our final budget this year from SAC. Things are being delayed, I think, because of the reform. We’re still waiting to see what exactly will happen. We are concerned, but I can’t say how much right now, because I haven’t seen the final budget yet.

Is Lecture Fund primarily driven by the initiative of individual members?

Lecture fund is structured with 25 members of the associate board. Everyone has the opportunity to go out and invite speakers that they find interesting. After that, they will bring to the group a plan, based on whether or not the speaker has agreed, and how much they will cost. Then, the whole group decides whether or not to spend the money on the speaker. For Karl Rove specifically, someone came to the group, and brought to the group his price and his dates and his availability. We thought about it, and it hit all of our criteria for a good lecturer.

What are the criteria for a “good” lecturer?

It’s in line with our mission statement, which is that we want to promote dialogue on campus – we want to bring speakers that students can ask challenging questions, that can spark some campus debate. We also look at things like cost-per-head, and if the speaker brings some diversity in terms of our lecture series so far [during that school year].

The response of some students to General David Petraeus’ speech in Gaston Hall sparked discussion around campus. What is Lecture Fund’s response to that the protests? Jon Askonas (SFS ’13), a Lecture Fund member, has created the Hoyas for a Respectful Dialogue, in opposition to the protesters’ strategy.

First, whatever Jon is doing is entirely independent of Lecture Fund, and we do not endorse it in any way. We encourage campus debate and campus dialogue. We encourage the spirit of protesters, but not what they did. We encourage people, instead of interrupting events, to wait until the [Q-and-A] to ask pointed questions toward the speaker. We bring speakers like Karl Rove so that students can ask them pointed questions. That’s our goal, not to have our events interrupted because people disagree with them.

In addition to board members seeking out speakers, there’s also an option for students to submit ideas for speakers online at your Web site. How does that work?

The process gets all jumbled up. Sometimes we will set up surveys [in The Midnight Mug] and other popular campus locations, so people can write in the speakers that they want. If any of those suggestions sparks some interest in a member of Lecture Fund, they’ll go out and try to get them in the same manner that they would if it was their own idea. It works the same way for online submissions.

So one of the ways Lecture Fund seeks to hear the voices of the student body is through the online suggestion box. What other ways do you try to represent the student voice?

I think that [student representation] is facilitated in part by our large board. All of our board members have very diverse interests, and so [they] look for very different speakers. We will also sponsor other groups [who] come to us, hoping to invite a speaker, but looking for logistical and financial support. Again, we use very unbiased criteria to pick our events. We constantly ask ourselves if the speaker we choose adds to the diversity of the lecture series. We try to make it about more than just pandering to political views.

How does one go about joining Lecture Fund?

We have an affirmation period at the beginning of each semester, where we go over and read applications submitted online, but we are also a SAC group, so we also have a general membership group.

How competitive was the process to join the Associate Board?

It’s gotten somewhat competitive. We’ve had upwards of 20 applications a semester, and out of those, we’ve accepted between three and five people.

What do you look for when you read over the applications? Do you look for people with very strong and perhaps unique opinions?

We do look for people who have an interest in bringing different and unique speakers that appeal to a part of campus that may not normally be involved in the process, such as somebody from the sciences, and people who would look for speakers the rest of us [on Lecture Fund] wouldn’t think about. At the same time, we want someone [who’s] been to a lot of lectures, knows what a good lecture is, [and is] a proactive member, someone that will pull their weight.

Would you say you seek a well-rounded student for Lecture Fund, or a well-rounded Lecture Fund?

It’s both, in the sense that we want people with different interests, because Lecture Fund has a reputation for only seeking political speakers, but at the same time, we are looking for some uniform characteristics, like responsibility and diligence.

Who has been the most interesting speaker you’ve brought to campus this year?

Well, we brought Ralph Nader and Bruce Fein earlier this semester – that was after Petraeus. There was also a scientist, one of the first [speakers] we brought last year, [who] was really popular. That went very well. It was something a little out of the ordinary that we did, and it showed that the science community here at Georgetown is large and blossoming.

Who was your favorite speaker to listen to?

Some of our entertainment speakers have been very fun, very entertaining. We[‘ve] had Craig from Craig’s List, Ben from Ben & Jerry’s, and those people, the ones who talk about the beginnings of a company we all know, [are] exciting for campus, and they’re different and fun.

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