ACU prides itself on inviting top-notch speakers to campus, but more importantly, it emphasizes its role as an open forum for discourse – and justifiably so.
During the past few years, ACU has invited authors, theologians, social activists and business leaders to speak at events of all kinds, from Summit to Lynay meetings. Students have gotten excited about big names like Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, and Lance Barrow, sports producer for CBS.
Thankfully, ACU has taken the time to invite some lesser-known individuals who have equally valuable things to say. Sam Solomon, a former Muslim scholar who converted to Christianity, and Tim Wise, an anti-racism author and speaker, are a couple of people who immediately come to mind. Even groups with far more controversial stances, such as the gay rights group, Soulforce, have also been welcomed to engage in dialogue with the ACU community.
We salute the university for not only allowing, but encouraging students, faculty and staff to participate in meaningful discussion with those of different interests, faiths and political leanings. A liberal arts education is intended to develop a student’s ability to synthesize knowledge and experience in order to improve critical thinking skills. The broader experience we have in college, the better we’ll be able to contribute to society later.
Unfortunately, while ACU does an excellent job of inviting a diverse group of speakers, the selection process seems, at times, haphazard and incomplete.
Unlike many universities, ACU does not have a central office responsible for choosing guest speakers. This gives departments the freedom to choose their own speakers – the College of Business Administration is noteworthy in its selection of well-known and well-respected global business leaders – but it can also create confusion among students and faculty, who aren’t sure how or why certain speakers were chosen.
More importantly, though, ACU’s lineup of speakers rarely includes A-list figures, at least as far as universities like Harvard or William & Mary are concerned. Instead, ACU tends to invite counter-cultural evangelicals – edgy Christians, if you will – but still Christians. They’re not edgy Muslims or Jews or atheists, and we hardly ever see famous politicians or athletes. Harding University has invited such noteworthy guests as George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice; even Lipscomb University invited Department of Commerce Secretary David Sampson in 2006, when it was half the size of ACU.
We’re not expecting to see Jon Stewart or Ban Ki-Moon at the next commencement speech. What we would like to see is a heightened interest on the part of the university in inviting speakers whose names are known outside evangelical circles – not because we’re tired of hearing from leaders in the faith or because we’re ungrateful, but because we think world leaders, even “secular” ones, have something valuable to offer.
ACU is becoming a household name in education; we should act like it. If we can afford to give iPhones to every student, maybe we could afford to get Anderson Cooper or Oprah or Stephen Colbert on campus. We’re sure ACU would give them a warm Christian welcome.