Lecture series focuses on staff

January 26, 2001

Arthur Nead

The spoken word has a power that echoes through history. From Socrates in ancient Greece to Patrick Henry in the American colonies, from Cicero in the Roman republic to Martin Luther King in America of the 1960s, public speaking has commanded a central role in the affairs of nations and communities. Lectures and speeches, in fact, are the heart and soul of university life, and Tulane is no exception.

"If you look at bulletin boards around the campus, at the medical school or the law school or any other area, you will see notices for lots of lectures," says Gilbert Estrada of the Tulane Staff Advisory Council. "However, with a very few exceptions, these either relate to very narrow academic topics or are geared exclusively to students and faculty. You see a lot of this, but you don't see anything being done for staff. I think there could be other things going on."

In 1998, council discussions about this situation focused on the fact that the council itself had not been sponsoring any lectures or events, and it decided to take action.

"The SAC wanted to spread its wings and do different things," says Estrada. "So we began talking about putting together a program of lectures that would be of interest to everyone." (Another event springing from the council's efforts to augment its activities is the yearly council-sponsored luncheon bringing together staff employees and Tulane President Scott Cowen.)

Estrada visited a local library branch and saw a flyer advertising a talk by newscaster Sally Ann Roberts. "I said to myself, this is the sort of thing we should be doing," says Estrada. "Let's get people like her to talk. Let's see what they have to say."

For Estrada, Roberts epitomized the ideal sort of speaker for a staff-sponsored lecture series-- someone who would have an interesting message and appeal equally to staff, faculty and students. To broaden the appeal of the lectures, the council decided to make them lunchtime events, with attendees invited to bring their brown bag lunches along.

The council launched its speaker series in 1999 with Dick Mitchell, the president of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce. Mitchell spoke about business scams and how to avoid being tricked by them.

"We had a very good turnout for Mitchell," said Estrada. "I have found that we have a better turnout for people who are not affiliated with Tulane."

The variety of speakers presented by the series seems to be one of the biggest reasons for its popularity, according to Estrada. But, as with any enterprise, "you'll have some hits and you'll have some misses."

Early in the lecture series the coordinators started giving attendees a handout to get feedback on the speaker selection, the topic and their suggestions for future speakers or topics.

"On a recent canvassing," says Estrada, "one person suggested a 'stop smoking' lecture; 11 people requested a speaker on Tulane history; one wanted something on health and exercise; and one other requested something on crime and self-defense."

A request for investment advice resulted in the financial consultant Fred Seigal's lectures last October. Another speaker was David Dorman, director of marketing for the Jazzland theme park, who discussed the steps necessary for starting up such a complex enterprise.

"We got some flak about him," says Estrada. "Some people thought it was a sales gimmick. But we wanted to know what he was going to say about Jazzland, since it was new and hadn't opened yet."

This choice of a speaker proved to be a good one, and the lecture was well-attended by curious employees. Attorney Sidney Rothschild, adjunct professor at the A.B. Freeman School of Business, spoke on the topic, "Legal Potpourri," providing a primer on everyday legal issues. Tulane police sergeant Wilce Gilbert gave a helpful lecture on "Holiday and Home Safety" as the 2000 year-end holidays approached.

And Sally Ann Roberts did come to campus, responding to the council's invitation to speak with a discussion about working in television and reading from her book, Going Live: An Anchorwoman Reports Good News. Local publisher and Mardi Gras television commentator Arthur Hardy spoke on "Mardi Gras 2001: Update and Report" in January 2000 and was the most recent speaker in January 2001, both times drawing a large and enthusiastic audience.

The next speaker is F. Brobson Lutz, health spokesperson for the Orleans Parish Medical Society and a medical news commentator for local television, radio and print media. He is planning to speak on "New Orleans Water-- Is It Fit to Drink: From River to Lake" on Tuesday, March 20.

"We have a wish list of future speakers," said Estrada. "We're hoping to get celebrities with local connections like Delta Burke, Archie Manning and, hopefully, Richard Simmons. For the future, says Estrada, the Staff Advisory Council is considering hosting other kinds of events, possibly about "things that could be beneficial for work," he says.

Typical events the SAC is considering are stress-management workshops or basic classes on using e-mail. "There just aren't any classes about such elementary things right now, and there is a real need for them," says Estrada.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000