May 1, 1997
The Direction Lecture Series, which, since 1967 has brought such speakers as President Ronald Reagan, Hunter S. Thompson and the late Carl Sagan to Tulane, is taking a hiatus this year. Direction is a student-run program that brings renowned and local speakers to campus in the spring to discuss topical issues.
The program takes a break this year to allow time to "regroup and plan for future years," says Direction faculty adviser Carolyn Barber-Pierre, director of multicultural affairs. According to Kiran Hora (N '97), the student chairperson of the Direction program, the main reason for the break is the lack of attendance on the part of students, faculty, staff and local alumni in recent years.
Last year's event, which discussed "Realities of Violence" over a three-night period, drew only 200 people on its busiest night. "It's horrible when only 200 people show up when you're trying to sell out McAlister Auditorium, which seats 1,500 people," Hora says. "It's baffling that nobody seemed interested in it. Most of the people who did come were alumni and people from the community who have supported Direction in the past and will continue to support Direction."
With such little interest from the Tulane and New Orleans communities, it has become economically difficult to produce a speaker symposium, she says. According to Hora, part of the problem is the ticket prices.
"Last year, tickets cost $25 for a package of three, which proved to be too much for students to pay," she says. "Also, the amount you have to pay speakers to get them to come has exponentially increased, and our budget can't keep up with it."
Some past speakers have cost more than $25,000, Hora says. Martha Sullivan, vice president of student affairs, says high ticket prices aren't the major cause of poor attendance. In fact, ticket prices have remained fairly steady for more than a decade. In 1984, for instance, ticket prices for a three-day speaker series was $22.
This type of issue-oriented program featuring panel discussions with numerous speakers may not be the right format for a college campus event, Sullivan says.
"Everybody can watch these types of dialogues on television now," Sullivan says. "It's not so much a question of high prices as it is a question of whether the format meets the needs of the student body." The recent poor attendance at Direction may come as a surprise to alumni who may remember Direction as an extremely popular event, Hora says.
"It used to be an exciting thing for people. Everyone on campus wanted to go and was really excited about it when it came," she says. Hora, who graduates this year, hopes that student participation in planning the Direction series will increase in the future. She envisions "involving other [Associated Student Body] committees in the planning, which will spread the interest and bring the crowd back."
Sullivan says that students must be creative when discussing the program's future. "The students need to think about whether this is something they want to fund," she says. "Perhaps they can work as a collective with a variety of other groups to continue the program."
Although Sullivan says that she would "hate to see [Direction] go," she says that other programming on the campus has increased significantly, particularly for the Black Arts Festival, Martin Luther King Week for Peace, and other Tulane University Campus Programs events. "Maybe the program will come back with renewed vigor," Sullivan says. "But we'll need a great deal of faculty, staff and student commitment."
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