In April, Gregor Feige and Audrey Henderson, co-chairs of the 2001 Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium, knew plans were coming together when they secured award-winning journalist and author Bob Woodward as one of the event's speakers. The symposium staff had begun their organizing efforts in January, and to see the first real fruit of their labor, Henderson says, was very encouraging.
"At that point, we were really excited," said Henderson, a junior majoring in international studies. "We thought, even if it went downhill from there, the symposium was still going to be good."
Downhill? Not quite.
For Feige and Henderson, their initial excitement would later turn into amazement as other prominent personalities accepted invitations to speak at Johns Hopkins. The 2001 MSE Symposium, which begins this week, features the lineup of Woodward, actor and NRA president Charlton Heston, U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, talk-show host Oliver North, CNN's Greta Van Susteren, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, historian Howard Zinn, media personality Ben Stein and professor and civil rights attorney Lani Guinier.
According to Feige, the symposium staff reached for the stars and managed to pluck a few.
"We set our sights pretty high," says Feige, who also is a junior majoring in international studies. "We wanted to get high-profile speakers and people who were intellectual luminaries because that should be the goal of any symposium. You want to bring the best people you can possibly bring. We're very happy with who we were able to get."
Established in 1967, the MSE Symposium is an annual student-run lecture series designed to present an issue of national importance to the university and the greater community. Each year the event draws thousands of students and residents from the Baltimore and Washington areas. The two co-chairs, undergraduates at Homewood selected by the Student Council, are responsible for choosing a theme, securing speakers, raising necessary funds, recruiting other student volunteers and publicizing the series. Past speakers have included Maya Angelou, President Gerald Ford, Kurt Vonnegut, Ralph Nader and Rev. Jesse Jackson.
This year's theme, A Nation United: Politics and Power in the 21st Century, will examine the forces of money, the media and political ideology and their effects on the American political system. Originally titled "A Nation Divided ... ," the title was changed to reflect the country's solidarity after the events of Sept. 11 (see the co-chairs' letter at top).
In addition to the lectures, the symposium will incorporate a student political debate, a photography exhibit and a film series. All take place on the Homewood campus.
The exhibit, located in the Mattin Center's Ross Jones Building, features a collection of 16-by-20 photographs of political figures and events and enlarged front pages, all from the Baltimore Sun and mounted by the newspaper specifically for the symposium. The pieces were chosen by the nine-person symposium staff and trace events from the Kennedy administration to the present. The exhibit opened on Saturday and will run through Oct. 26.
"We had this idea to set up a photography exhibit because we really think that a lot of pictures you see in the news media really can capture the emotions of events and shape the way we view things," Henderson says. "Of course, all of the images in the exhibit pale in comparison to the horrific scenes that we all saw on Tuesday, Sept. 11. No matter who you are, or where you were, it was the kind of event that affected every one of us."
The inaugural MSE Film Series will have five presentations throughout the fall semester. Starting with All the President's Men, which stars Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as Watergate investigators Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, each film will tie into this year's theme. The other films to be shown are Traffic, Wag the Dog, Bulworth and Primary Colors.
The film series replaces the symposium workshops, which, according to Henderson, have historically not been well-attended. "We thought these movies would provide a better forum for students to learn about some of these issues and expand upon what they hear in the lectures," Henderson says.
The lectures series will commence on Sept. 20 with Bob Woodward's talk titled "The Media: News Breakers or News Makers?" The symposium will conclude on Dec. 6 with a talk by Feingold called "Hardball: Money and Power in the American Political System."
The lectures will be held in Shriver Hall, and all the films will be shown in Bloomberg Auditorium. All events are free and open to the public.
The co-chairs are optimistic that this year's list of speakers and events will result in a record turnout. Feige says the ability to lure high-caliber lecturers stems from the hard work and dedication of the symposium staff.
"Our thinking was, if you start off from day one as a professional organization, then the events and our operation will run a lot more smoothly," Feige says. "I think people are going to be very pleased at what they see, and get as excited as us about this symposium."
For the complete schedule, see box below.