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Hennen stifles debate

When I initially heard that political strategists James Carville and Mary Matalin were coming to campus, I was pretty excited. How often does Concordia attract two presidential advisers to come and talk? It was a big deal. But after attending the event, I must say that I was extremely dissatisfied.

Although I knew talk radio host Scott Hennen had a Republican slant, I had no idea that he would dominate an event that was heavily advertised as a lively but thoughtful debate between two well-known political strategists (and marital partners, nonetheless) to promote his recently released book. If you check out Hennen’s website, you’ll see that the Carville/Matalin event, to him, was just another stop for his book tour.

But this is not the reason I and many other students, faculty, staff and community members decided to attend the event. We wanted to hear from two great political minds, to gain insight into their years spent in the White House and to hear what they thought about the 2012 presidential election and what issues they believe are most important in politics today.

Furthermore, for a thoughtful debate or discussion to occur, it helps to have thoughtful questions. Hennen failed again here. At the end of the event, I felt like it was a waste of time largely due to Hennen’s failure to ask questions that would elicit interesting or insightful responses from Carville and Matalin.

I’m not the only one that is questioning the selection of Hennen as moderator. In this paper, and in the Fargo Forum, readers have submitted letters describing their dissatisfaction with the event. As Kay Schwarzwalter, in a letter to the editor of the Fargo Forum, put it: “Concordia sullies its reputation.’’ This directly impacts the reputation of Concordia because the 1,000 attendees—from the campus and local community— witnessed an incredibly anti-intellectual and one-sided discussion.

There is a reason why talk radio hosts do not teach classes at Concordia. It should be our goal  not just to have a thoughtful and fair discussion, but to move beyond talking points and gotcha statements and instead approach topics from the perspective of co-inquirers. We read, write, discuss, debate and wonder about issues that affect our lives. This is fundamental to a liberal arts education.

This event would have been much more interesting and enjoyable had a Concordia faculty member moderated the discussion. Not only would better questions have been asked but more importantly, the event would focus more on the guests instead of the moderator.

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