November 5, 2013

Letter: Questioning IOP event

Having read your report ("IOP Alters Program After Insensitivity Claims," 11/01/13) on claims about insensitivity at the Institute of Politics (IOP), I feel compelled to voice a different kind of complaint regarding activities at this institute and its meaningful contributions to life at the University.

Others may be troubled by the food served at the IOP and the way it is publicized.  What I find troublesome, however, is that the three guest speakers at the Conservatism in America workshop I have been attending this quarter are only exposed to questions which the moderator, Ramesh Ponnuru, deems appropriate.

In all fairness, I should note that this highly esteemed conservative commentator fields all questions in sessions where there are no guests and does seem to relish the give and take which arises in response to the exposition of his own views. But on the occasions when former GOP Chairman Ed Gillespie, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have been in attendance, questions were required to be submitted in writing and then approved for asking by Ponnuru.

As a consequence, whether intended or not, the questions which get asked tend to be extremely polite and rooted in a decidedly Republican world view. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that, but it strikes me as rather counterproductive, or at the very least limiting, considering the vigorous intellectual inquiry which we like to think we engage in. I understand that this may be designed to protect the guests from being asked embarrassing or overly hostile questions, but one would like to think that people at the University of Chicago are smart enough to ask tough and penetrating questions without being rude or obnoxious. After all, don’t we all strive to do precisely that in our everyday intellectual pursuits?

Thus, I would ask the IOP’s policy makers to adopt a more open stance with regard to the way in which guest speakers are questioned. That should be as important to the future success of the Institute as the way it refers to sessions in which Harold’s Chicken is served up to their audience!

Steven Platzer