Thomas speaks at Convocation

Journalist Helen Thomas told GW students and faculty to keep up with current events, and faculty members from several academic disciplines debated the implications of November’s presidential election in front of a sizeable crowd at the annual Opening Convocation Tuesday in Lisner Auditorium.

Stay in touch, read newspapers, watch television, Thomas advised students. There is a world you’ll have to meet someday.

Barbara Porter, director of Public Affairs, said the turnout of about 400 to 500 faculty and students reflects the fact that students are tuned into the election.

Both Porter and University Marshal Jill Kasle said the turnout exceeded the numbers from recent years.

Kasle attributed the large turnout to the vast number of students interested in topics and the attraction of Thomas. The ceremony drew curious students, faculty members, neighborhood residents and many Community Living and Learning Center delegates.

Thomas also mentioned the importance of history’s lessons in her message to students.

Don’t repeat the mistakes of the past . be aware of the `isms’ that engulfed us in wars . and cost millions of lives, she said. The only way for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.

Thomas, a Shapiro Fellow at the School of Media and Public Affairs, served as a journalist for the United Press International’s Washington bureau from 1943 until May. She was the first woman to head a White House bureau service.

She began her remarks with her traditional closing statement to a White House press conference, Thank you, Mr. President – this time addressing GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.

Student protesters, who gathered outside Lisner before the event bearing signs that read GW uses sweatshops and GW lies about recycling, did not dampen the spirit of the academic gathering.

This is not a protest about a person, said Tanya Margolin, a member of the GW Action Coalition and Progressive Student Union. All the administration is congregating and it’s a place of greatness for our University . it’s a perfect place to bring up what’s wrong with our University.

The protesters continued to stand holding signs inside Lisner as Trachtenberg spoke, but sat and applauded when Thomas was introduced.

We did not pay them to do that, Trachtenberg joked before he introduced Thomas. But they do add a certain plausibility to this event.

Economic professor Robert M. Dunn Jr. began his remarks mentioning the protestors.

At least they debate over something serious, not over whether a misbehaved basketball coach is fired, Dunn said, in reference to the recent firing of Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight.

After the ceremony, Thomas said there was nothing distracting about the protestors.

It made me think of the `60s; students were very active, Thomas said. It meant they’re thinking.

Following Thomas’ speech, SMPA Director Jean Folkerts introduced Carl Stern, a Shapiro Professor with SMPA, who moderated the discussion of the positions of presidential candidates and the implications of electing either candidate.

Representatives from GW’s economics, education, international affairs and medical programs discussed four issues that dominate the election: medical care, fiscal policy, foreign policy and education.

Professor Brian Biles, chair of the Department of Health Services Management and Policy, discussed Vice President Al Gore’s and Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s positions on medical care and insurance coverage. Biles said Gore might appear stronger to voters who value the issue of medical care.

Dunn, who spoke about the importance of budget policy, said Bush was the better choice when it came to tax cuts and proper appropriation of money.

Dr. Mary Hatwood Futrell, dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, addressed education issues. Although Futrell conceded medical coverage could appear more important to voters than education, she described how Gore planned to spend $115 billion over 10 years and Bush planned to allocate $13.5 billion over five years. Futrell also said she opposes Bush’s proposal for school vouchers.

Dr. Henry R. Nau, professor of International Affairs, discussed possible changes in the direction of U.S. participation in globalization. He said positions on international politics do not vary greatly between either candidate.

A question and answer period was supposed to follow the presentations, but Kasle said the session was omitted due to time constraints.

Some students were disappointed by the decision to cut the program short.

Regardless of what President Trachtenberg said about valuing dissent in the University, the omission of the question and answer period proves that the administration is afraid to have their moderate values questioned, said sophomore Brain Dolber, a protester.

Students who took advantage of the academic gathering reflected on the speeches once the Convocation concluded.

(The speakers) added a little more of an unbiased opinion and contributed more information than we usually receive from television, freshman Justin Lareau said.

Other students said the discussion helped shape their perceptions of the candidates.

I gained very good insights on both sides; it allowed me to base my opinion on fact, rather than political jargon, junior Elmer Saslo said.

Thomas said she was happy by the turnout of students and was excited for her start at GW.

I’m just getting my feet wet, Thomas said.
-Kelly O’Bryan contributed to this report.

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