Lecture series would benefit from better PR

Readers may have noticed that, starting this semester, The Tartan has published a weekly column previewing upcoming campus lectures. In an effort to alert students, faculty, and staff to interesting speakers and lecture topics, the paper encourages writers to pick lectures they find appealing.

What The Tartan didn?t expect was how difficult this column would be to write. The difficulty lies in a key problem identified again and again on this campus ? a failure of centralized communication.

Finding out about interesting lectures and events is hit-or-miss at Carnegie Mellon. Events are frequently publicized with little more than a flyer on a crowded community bulletin board. Departments rarely advertise speakers to anyone other than their own students. On a campus where technology is supposed to bring students together, keeping us informed by word of mouth should be obsolete.

Many lectures are ?centralized? in the University Lecture Series (ULS); they are sponsored by the University as a whole and are open to the public. Many of these speakers are provocative and well-chosen.

However, publicity is lacking. Often, students don?t know a speaker is arriving until he?s already here. At the beginning of the semester, when the Indian ambassador to the United States came to speak on campus, many students missed out on an important and interesting speech simply because they didn?t know beforehand.

One can imagine a department?s response: ?But the lectures are all listed on posters around campus.? Vibrant, colorful posters? No. The posters are so banal, even the UC information desk didn?t know they had a lecture schedule until they hunted about, finally finding it in the supply closet.

?But all the lectures are on the Web portal,? a University official might say. First, the Web portal is still not used by many people on campus. Furthermore, finding the link to ?View Events? and then sifting through an enormous calendar is more labor-intensive than actually attending the lecture itself.

Even more disconcerting is the degree to which the ULS fails to self-promote, making the speaker-selection process inaccessible to students. By and large, students don?t know who runs the ULS (Indira Nair, Vice Provost for Education) or how they can impact the series (students can submit speakers and offer their opinions about candidates). Had students played a more active role in shaping the speaker line-up last year, the uproar over Abunimah and Finkelstein may well have been avoided.

There are some basic steps that the University could take to make sure that speaker selection and the events are more accessible to all students. To begin with, constant and innovative publicity is key. A grayscale flyer or a hard-to-find posting is not going to cut it at a school where students are constantly inundated with information, both in print and online. The ULS and other lecture promoters should take more care to post advertisements in places where students are sure to look: flyers could be posted in classrooms, where students would be have plenty of time to examine them. As of now, most classroom bulletin boards are covered with out-of-date, unhelpful, or irrelevant material.

Departments should be sure to offer their lectures to an audience outside their own classes; there is always the possibility that art majors would be interested in a lecture on organic chemistry, and a CS major might want to learn more about international relations. Why narrow the audience of a speaker?

Stop placing your attention on controversial speakers, and focus on the implementation of the lecture series.