Senior Symposium on last legs

by Colin Barry | 5/9/03 5:00am

The Senior Symposium -- an event that for 23 years has attracted distinguished figures and energized campus debate -- may be facing its end.

The Spring term tradition has lost prominence in recent years, with prestigious speakers increasingly drawn to the campus by other groups.

For the second year in a row, Dartmouth's graduating class will not sponsor the event.

The '03 class council had hoped to invite filmmaker Michael Moore to speak this year, class leaders said, but hesitated about spending a significant sum on a single honorarium.

"It's like $35,000 to bring Moore to Dartmouth," said Jason Ortiz, the president of the senior class. "We don't have that kind of budget."

In its heyday, the Symposium was a popular, multi-day event that featured speeches and panel discussions about a specific theme, according to Heather Myers '87. Myers, who spoke to The Dartmouth from her home in New York, organized a Senior Symposium on journalism while an undergraduate. She said the event used to attract numerous notable lecturers, alumni and otherwise.

"There were a lot of Dartmouth alumni in prominent media roles and we leveraged the alumni base as best we could," Myers said.

In the mid- to late-90s, the Senior Symposium became more "grandiose," in the words of critics, and organizers attracted more notorious speakers. The event featured congressman Newt Gingrich in 1998 and Pulitzer prize-winner Wendy Wasserman in 2000. Organizers tried unsuccessfully to secure media icon Oprah Winfrey in 1999.

But the custom has ebbed in popularity recently, as eminent speakers have frequently appeared at the College for other events. The 2001 Symposium lasted only a single day and focused on a speech by a member of Oberlin College's environmental studies program.

Current '03 leaders expressed some doubt that the decline of the Senior Symposium would be a significant detriment to College life.

"I think we bring great speakers to campus already," Ortiz said.

Myers said the program, once so valuable, may be less so now.

"It used to be intellectually interesting to get people talking about an issue," Myers said. "I don't know, maybe that happens all the time these days without having to put on a Senior Symposium."

In past years, the Symposium had been exclusively funded and organized by the graduating seniors, although deans had often offered "advice and support," according to Senior Class Dean Teoby Gomez.

This year, the upperclass dean's office said it again offered counsel. Gomez said the deans told class officers, "it is up to you whether to have [a Symposium] or not, and we support whatever decision you make."

Ortiz said senior class officers tried their best to secure a speaker.

"There was a lot of interest from people on campus for Mike Moore," Ortiz said. "It just proved to be too hard."