Speaking to Whom?

The Elephant In The Room

Andrew Breland

There have been some famous faces around campus this fall. During the first few weeks of school, students were given the opportunity to hear from Gloria Steinem, the famous feminist icon. A few weeks later, Steve Wozniak and Zev Siegl, co-founders of Apple and Starbucks, respectively, spoke about entrepreneurship and building a business at separate events two days apart. This week and in the weeks to come, scholars and figures as varied as Harvard Professor Cass Sunstein, Jeopardy champion Arthur Chu and television actress and transgender advocate Laverne Cox will grace campus with their presence.

In the last few years, guests like this have been nonexistent. As recently as last year, for high-profile lectures and presentations students had to travel downtown to experience this same product. Last year, I happily attended presentations by Doris Kearns Goodwin and Bob Woodward by traversing the five miles between campus and the Ohio Theater. This year, I can merely walk to the new, yet still surprisingly disappointing, Tinkham Veale University Center to listen to acclaimed author Khaled Hosseini speak about his books.

The difference between the experiences, it appears, is the presence of that same university center.

The same building that this paper has almost incessantly criticized as a wall-less, art-less, colorless waste of money is the reason that the university has attracted such high profile and notable speakers to campus. The existence of a presentation space has saved the university from falling further into irrelevancy.

That is not to say it is all good. Last year, I wrote about my disappointment at the announcement that several speakers’ series were relocated from the Ohio Theater to Case Western Reserve University. I attacked then, and I still believe now, that these series, while important, do not attract students and are not aimed at young people. Additionally, the Town Hall series, which was responsible for Gloria Steinem, among others, prides itself on being a forum for debate and discussion in the city. How can that forum exist when all the professionals who they are trying to reach live and work downtown or on the west side, while the presentation is more than five miles in the other direction.

These are problems to which the university has not sufficiently explained an answer, and which they may not feel require answers at all. In the end, CWRU receives acclaim for these speakers, not derision, no matter how much they pervert the original mission statement.

I only bring this up because I caught myself the other day thinking about the events on campus this fall. It has been a marvelous experience. Personally, I will celebrate anything that makes the headline of The Daily more interesting than, “Vendor Fair takes place next week” (an actual headline from Oct. 22). But after celebrating that small victory, I was again overcome by the potential consequences of these developments.

Cleveland has been “recovering” for years. The city, most recently, has begun to build a significant service sector economy and houses offices of some of the nation’s largest service firms like Jones Day (law), Ernst and Young (accounting), and McKinsey and Company (consulting). But part of this recovery has been attracting well-educated college grads to come to a city where they can experience everything they might want: low cost of living, a social scene, intellectual development, recreation and opportunities to try new things. Unfortunately, the largest form of non-school intellectual development is taken from most of our young professionals when these events are moved up Euclid.

And this affects the city. People who otherwise are patrons of downtown restaurants, bars, and, yes, even parking, are now pulled toward University Circle where the choices for the same staples are dominated by national chains and a multi-million dollar dining company which holds a monopoly on campus food. Instead of supporting Cleveland, this incidental patronage leaves the city.

More than this though, one has to question the motives behind and the future for presentations at CWRU. Are these events here only because we have a new ballroom? Will they cease once the novelty of the place wears off? The university center includes a “nice” restaurant as an attempt to inculcate the new building into the community of people who come to University Circle solely for the Cleveland Orchestra. But now that its windows are exposed to a wall that will become the subject of student painting and graffiti, how long will the already-fleeting niceness last?

The point here is that people should not become content with the situation as it stands. There is a good chance that in the future, as the novelty of our new gray prison wears off, the programs will stop and the usefulness of the building will once again be questioned. This is something that needs to be thought about now. Not when that time comes.