Staff editorial: No Wonk of the Year, No Space on Campus
Though it won’t happen overnight, AU needs a venue for speakers
The Kennedy Political Union recently announced that the University will not host their flagship “Wonk of the Year” event this semester due to scheduling issues.
Bender Arena, the only University venue able to accommodate the expected attendees, was not available for the dates that coincided with the speaker’s availability. All other venues on campus are too small to host more than 300 attendees. Hosting the event at any of those venues would exclude large portions of the AU student body, said Kennedy Political Union Director Valeria Ojeda-Avitia.
While it is unclear who KPU originally selected as Wonk of the Year, it has become clear to The Eagle that AU’s actions in regards to speaking events do not match its words. The University has built its reputation on attracting heads of state such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former President Barack Obama. However, the University has found itself unprepared for the large interest and subsequent turnout for these events because there are no large dedicated speaking venues on campus.
Due to a growing and thriving student body, the University has taken initiatives to expand its physical size with expanded housing in East Campus. However, none of these initiatives have publicly included plans for a venue dedicated to hosting large speaking events such as Wonk of the Year.
In comparison, our peer institution George Washington University hosts most of its speakers in Lisner Auditorium,built in 1946. We accept that there are inherent differences between the two universities. However, we are obliged to ask for a similar solution for AU.
An effective first step would be recognizing the issue. Bender Arena is not and should not be a speaking venue; it is, at best, a glorified basketball court. The second step might be considering demolishing or greatly renovating buildings like Hurst and East Quad Building, each of which is antiquated and not accessible to students, staff or faculty with physical disabilities.
This freed space could be replaced with a multipurpose building much like the Mary Graydon Center, with a dedicated auditorium, another dining hall, expanded space for student activities and classroom space. It would be a space for all of AU’s academic programs to broadcast their accomplishments, speakers and events. None of this is expected to occur overnight, but the growing need is clear. We hope that this need will be considered when President-designate Sylvia Mathews Burwell begins to set the course for AU’s future.