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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 17, 2007 | Vol. 37 No. 3
2007 MSE Symposium Opens Tuesday

Photo by Christian Witkin

Christopher Hitchens leads off the high-profile series

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Luminaries from across cultural and political spectrums will once again journey to Johns Hopkins' Homewood campus as part of the annual Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium, a student-run lecture series that this year celebrates its first four decades.

Author, journalist and literary critic Christopher Hitchens will lead off the year's symposium with a talk at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 18, in Shriver Hall Auditorium. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., and a reception in the Clipper Room follows the event.

Hitchens, a pundit whose nonfiction often courts controversy, is the first of seven speakers in this year's symposium, the theme of which is Renewing American Culture: The Perspectives That Shape Our Identity.

Jonathan Collins, a senior engineering student and co-chair of the event, said that the organizers wanted an expansive theme that could incorporate many ideas and grand social issues.

"We are trying re-examine what it means to be American and how people value their everyday lives and American ideals," Collins said. "But like always, we wanted to bring in national figures who had something important to say and would draw crowds."

Collins said that the event's planners also wanted a local feel. To that end, the symposium will feature a talk on Sept. 26 by David Simon, creator of HBO's The Wire, author of Homicide: Life On the Streets and a former reporter at The Baltimore Sun, and one on Oct. 10 by Maryland Gov. and former Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Other scheduled speakers are actor Danny Glover on Oct. 12; award-winning documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy (daughter of Robert F. Kennedy) on Oct. 17; Bill Nye, the Science Guy, on Oct. 23; political satire troupe the Capitol Steps on Nov. 2; and actor Edward James Olmos on Nov. 8.

All lectures will take place in Shriver Hall, last approximately 45 minutes and be followed by a question-and-answer period and a reception.

Collins said that each talk will deal with a timely social issue or perspective.

"Bill Nye, for example, will talk about climate change, and Danny Glover will discuss his role with UNICEF," he said. "We want people to come and just listen, and hopefully these talks will inspire more discussion, whether that means coming to some sort of conclusion on a topic, or just a deeper understanding."

Established in 1967 to honor the university's eighth president, the annual MSE Symposium is an undergraduate-run lecture series, free and open to the public, that brings to campus renowned speakers with a variety of perspectives on issues of national importance. The symposium has drawn a star-studded roster that includes Nelson Mandela, Aaron Copland, Kurt Vonnegut, Maya Angelou, Spike Lee, Charlton Heston, Carl Bernstein, George McGovern, Eugene McCarthy, Russell Simmons, Bob Woodward, Patricia Ireland, Wesley Clark, Isaac Asimov, Antonin Scalia, Ben Stein, Howard Zinn and Michael Moore.

This year's co-chairs are Collins, Jon Bernhardt, a junior majoring in international relations, and Nora Krinitsky, a junior majoring in history.

The chairs receive some funding from Student Council and raise the balance from university departments, corporations and foundations. They are also responsible for everything else, a daunting array of tasks that includes booking auditoriums; arranging for hotels, dinners and receptions for the guests; securing the sound system; and publicizing the series.

Leadoff speaker Hitchens has been a regular guest on politically themed cable TV shows like The Daily Show and Real Time with Bill Maher. His newest book, a New York Times bestseller, is God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. His other titles include The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice; a book about President Clinton's family titled No One Left to Lie to: The Values of the Worst Family; A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq; and The Monarchy: A Critique of Britain's Favorite Fetish.

He has written columns for Vanity Fair, The Nation and Slate, and he contributes to The New York Review of Books, The London Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Atlantic Monthly and other publications.

Collins said he is looking forward to meeting all the speakers, several of whom he and other symposium staff will be dining with the evening of their talks. He said that the opportunity to meet such distinguished guests will make the long hours worthwhile.

"This has been a great responsibility and a lot of hard work," he said. "But it's also been fun."

While admission to all the events is free, a seat near the stage at all events can be secured with the purchase of a $50 season pass. For a pass or more information about the talks, go to the MSE Symposium Web site at


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