‘Justice’ lectures poorly attended

Attendance at the Justice Across Generations fora in January ranged from standing room only to a handful of students. The opening debate between Mario Cuomo and Craig Paul Roberts, which served as an introduction to the topic of justice across generations, packed Chapin Hall. The subsequent panels on Social Security and Medicaid, financing public education and sustainable development, followed by a concluding panel, were less well attended.

Associate Professor of Political Science Jim Mahon Jr. said “the fora grew out of an ad hoc committee which was trying to enhance the college’s roll in public affairs.” He attributed the high attendance at the opening debate to the fact that “the best way to draw an audience is to bring in someone who people have seen on television.”

Mahon noted that the least well attended panel was the discussion of Social Security and Medicare and speculated that this was because “Williams people think old age is far off.”

Discussing reasons for low student turnout Mahon said “if students want to see something, they’ll see it; if not, not.” He also touched on the assumption that “students have more time during winter study.” He acknowledged that “when coaches who schedule double practices and directors hold daily rehearsals based on that assumption, free time is quickly diminished”

Mahon also acknowledged the perception that “politics is show biz for ugly people” and the view of some students that “it is their roll to do well in classes, get a well paying job and leave decision making to ideologues.” He then noted “if politics are left to ideologues, the rest of us tend to not get involved.”

When asked about the political tendencies of Williams students in comparison to students at other institutions, Mahon said his only other teaching experience was as a T.A. at U.C. Berkeley in the 1970s. “The students there were much more politically aware than are the students here and while that was in part a product of the time, Berkeley has a self perpetuating image as an activist school which Williams does not.”

Charley Abernathy ’01, attended several of the panels and noted that “there was not a lot of actual debate, the lack of opposition made the discussion less intriguing.”

Moderator of the sustainable development panel Professor of Environmental Studies Kai Lee also noted “the panelists were so polite to each other that the real differences in their views did not come across.”

Abernathy said “ideally, on a liberal arts campus, you’d have well-attended panels which address issues which reflect the students interest, but I don’t know where that interest lies.”

Alex Tornow ’00, who attended none of the debates, said he did so “because I don’t like politics—it presents the story in half a way. I see a panel discussion as closed-minded men whining at each other.” He said, “It would take a personal experience, not some man talking about it to change my mind about an issue.”

Tornow said he sees himself as “apart from the political process, I’ll get my education and a job and take care of myself. I can accept that my disengagement from politics will result in some things I don’t like. If things get too bad, I can always start to get involved.”

Commenting on the success of the series Director of Public Affairs James Kolesar said “Attendance at the first event in Chapin was terrific, at the next two events was certainly less than we’d hoped for, and was respectable for the final two.”

Lee said “the very low turn out for the series seemed to indicate a level of apathy among students that is worrying. The concern I have is that students may be too occupied with recreation during winter study to think about justice or intergenerational time. That is disappointing if true.”

Kolesar commented “ overall, the series did raise consciousness among students of these

issues but as a community we need to continue working toward finding

ways to more effectively engage students with public issues. We’re making progress but still have a way to go.”