Emerson is looking at the right side of economic and political thought this semester with a new speaker series aimed at broadening the breadth of ideas on campus.
The Right Stuff: Diversity of Conservative Thought and Policy, will bring three academics to Emerson to explore conservative thinkers and examine issues from a free market perspective. The series kicks off October 12 with Colin O’Reilly, a scholar at Creighton University’s Institute for Economic Inquiry, talking about “F.A. Hayek’s Modern Legacy.” Hayek was an economist known for opposing what he saw as the rise of socialism during World War II.
The series is designed to “make people see that what ‘conservative’ means isn’t as simple and straightforward as people think,” said Tylor Orme, assistant professor in the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies, which is sponsoring the series with the President’s Office, and creator of The Right Stuff.
Last semester, Orme was making plans to teach a course on the origins of conservative thought this fall and wanted to bring in a number of guest speakers to class. Around the same time, a group of right-leaning students approached administrators about what they saw as a lack of conservative viewpoints represented on campus.
Orme spotted the opportunity and created the series, which he sees as an extension of his class that’s open to everyone at Emerson.
Students in his class are all over the political spectrum, Orme said. Some are left-of-center moderates who want to “see the other side.” There are avowed conservatives who want a deeper understanding to undergird their beliefs. There are students on the left who are mainly curious, he said.
Jason Skaggs ’18 is one of those students. A self-described democratic socialist, Skaggs said it’s crucial to learn about something before you disagree with it.
“I feel like if we ever want to progress as a nation, we have to learn about the other side,” Skaggs said. “One, you learn that the other side does want the best for everybody; it’s just kind of a disagreement on how to get there.
“And two, I really can’t wait to use my newfound knowledge to shut down some of my good friends about their libertarian leanings,” he added, archly.
Despite the range of opinions, he said he thinks the class, and by extension the speaker series, is designed to foster thoughtful debate and separate the person speaking from their ideas. He said he’s never felt “jumped on” in Orme’s class.
Allyson Gottlieb ’18 says she would probably call herself a libertarian–economically conservative and socially moderate to left-of-center. She agrees that the class has allowed students to question and discuss the issues without devolving into chaos.
She said she’s “really curious” who, besides her classmates, comes to the conservative speaker series, but she knows she wants it to remain civil .
“I don’t want this to become a fight,” Gottlieb said, “I don’t want this to turn into something where other students can say, ‘Look, this bad thing happened.’”
“I think it’s a good step in the right direction,” she said of the series.
Conservative speakers, particularly controversial and/or incendiary figures like political scientist Charles Murray and commentator Ann Coulter, have led to protests and occasional violence on campuses recently.
But while the speakers Orme is bringing to Emerson may have strong positions, he said, none of them—two economists and an education reformer—is likely to inspire outrage.
“I think this is a fairly straightforward, ‘Let’s hear things from an interesting perspective,’ but there’s nothing controversial about the people who are coming,” Orme said.
Skaggs said he thinks the speaker series, if it’s anything like Orme’s class, will help open minds regardless of their political leanings.
“There is a line where nobody should be spouting hateful rhetoric on campus whatsoever,” he said, “but the difference between hateful rhetoric and being a right-wing conservative is a pretty big gap, and this class goes a long way in teaching what that gap is.”
“F.A. Hayek’s Modern Legacy” will be held Thursday, October 12, 10:00–11:45 am, in the Cabaret, 52 Summer Street.
Upcoming speakers are Audrey Redford, assistant professor of economics at Western Carolina University, on “A Free Market Analysis of Drug Prohibition” on November 2; and Jamie Gass, director of the Center for School Reform at the Pioneer Institute, on “School Choice and Education Policy in Massachusetts” on November 30.