Due to poor attendance at the Michael Ratnerâ€™s Maverick Lecture on April 9, Dennis Ahlburg, president of the university, sent an email out to faculty about the poor attendance.
â€œThis applies on two levels, for both faculty and students. An education is more than just going to class,â€ Ahlburg said. â€œWe have lectures at Trinity by people of international stature… who have made a contribution internationally. They are on campus and people canâ€™t be bothered to walk 100 yards to see them for free. It makes me wonder how serious they are about their ongoing education.â€
According to Ahlburg, the email incited some defensive responses from faculty.
â€œI have a private life, I live far away, I have kids, those were some of the responses I got,â€ Ahlburg said. â€œI understand. But that doesnâ€™t explain why you donâ€™t come to any of the lectures. Trinity signals its engagement in the larger issues by its presence. If there are no faculty or students at these lectures, the community doesnâ€™t know what to think.â€
The poor attendance at the lecture led Ahlburg to consider the business of faculty and students at Trinity. Ahlburg plans to engage the faculty in a discussion that recognizes the time and scheduling challenges of attending lectures to figure out if there is a way to get better representation out of the faculty for lectures.
Peter Oâ€™Brien, professor of political science, did not attend the lecture due to prior plans. However, he recognizes the value and importance lectures such as the Maverick Lectures offer students and faculty.
â€œIâ€™m partial to the issue. As an undergraduate, my job was to record these kinds of lectures,â€ Oâ€™Brien said. â€œI had to go to so many lectures, and, while I got paid for it, I recognize that it was very enriching to my education. I always regret not going to the lectures.â€
Both Ahlburg and Oâ€™Brien talked about potential ways to encourage lecture attendance. Ahlburg is considering an intellectual engagement designation on studentsâ€™ college transcripts.
â€œWeâ€™re working it out. And weâ€™ll talk with you about it as we work it out,â€ Ahlburg said. â€œThere are other certificates that show that somebody did more than just the standard courses that everybody does. Thatâ€™s a tried and true method of saying, â€˜hereâ€™s something particular about this individual.â€™â€
According to Oâ€™Brien, other universities require students to attend a set number of lectures during their time at the university.
â€œI taught at Kalamazoo for a while, and they required students to attend 24 lectures over their four years,â€ Oâ€™Brien said. â€œI also gave a lecture at Furman University. They had a requirement for lecture attendance as well.â€
According to senior Josh Vanderslice, the poor attendance at the Maverick Lecture may be due to a lack of advertising.
â€œI had no idea there was a lecture that night. I definitely would have gone,â€ Vanderslice said. â€œWhen I heard about it, I looked through LeeRoy and they had only advertised in there a few times.â€
While the poor attendance to the Maverick Lecture may be attributed to a lack of advertising, according to Ahlburg, the attendance at that particular lecture is part of a larger culture of disinterest in lectures.
â€œEver since I came here, apart from name brands like Colin Powell, and even the former prime minister of Mexico, the lectures havenâ€™t been total sell-outs,â€ Ahlburg said. â€œI want it to be clear to our students that the smallest part of your education â€” this will get me in trouble with the faculty â€” is putting your bum on a seat in the classroom. The most important part of your Trinity education is what happens outside the classroom.â€
According to Ahlburg, he will be working with other administration to increase lecture attendance for both students and staff.