Huntsman Visit Prompts Discussion of Ath Procedures

Jon Huntsman is scheduled to speak at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum on Thursday, November 1. Huntsman is the fall speaker of the Res Publica Society Speaker Series, which has previously featured former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The Ath's primary goal in bringing influential speakers to CMC is to serve as a locus for intellectual discourse for both students and faculty to ask questions and seek answers. Given the name recognition and stature of Huntsman, most recently known for his pursuit of the Republican nomination for President, students raced to secure a spot to attend the event early last week.

Typically, reservations for events at the Ath occur every two weeks, when students are informed of upcoming speakers through the Ath’s newsletter, The Fortnightly. Reservations for Jon Huntsman’s talk opened at 12:00 a.m. on October 20, the first day of Fall Break, a time when most students were at home or elsewhere off-campus. As Huntsman’s talk is one of the most sought-after Ath events this semester, signups for his talk should have been rearranged to occur either earlier before break or immediately after students returned to campus. This would have allowed for students to have equal access, something the Ath strives to achieve.

Many students had difficulty accessing the Internet to sign up for the event because of their locations. Sara Linssen ’16 said, "It was really frustrating because I really wanted to reserve my spot for the event, but it was impossible." Linssen tried to sign up again when Internet was accessible but there were no longer any available spots.

However, Woolley Fellow Meredith Reisfield ’13 argued that students have "pretty equal opportunity to sign up regardless of the day that it actually opens because it’s all online." So, for students to claim that they were unable to sign up means that they either did not have enough interest or the proper foresight to make sure their reservation spot would be secured. While the Ath should try to make sure reservation openings do not fall on holidays or vacations, students should also make the effort to plan out how they will reserve spots for events they are particularly interested in. The schedule of all the speakers to attend the Ath this semester can be found online.

Spots to sit at the head table with Huntsman were also well sought after. In fact, a group of students camped outside the Ath the night before the head table signups opened to secure their spots. Will Su ’16 said, “There was literally just a tent full of people” when he went to the Ath at 1:00 a.m. to wait in line.

While the reservation and head table signup processes do come with drawbacks, Reisfield said these issues are “very perennially debated at the meetings of the Ath Advisory Board, partly because there is no perfect system.” On one hand, a lottery brings in students who are not as passionate about the event, but on the other, signing up via a queue results in a race to be the first student in line. The upside of the current system is its consistency of bringing in students who are extremely interested in attending, as students have to put in a certain amount of effort to reserve a spot at the head table or even to attend particularly popular events. In the future, however, the Ath could consider testing out a new system for future popular talks in which students would line up to enter a lottery. This system would combine the positives of a lottery and a queue by fusing together chance and effort.

Those excited for the event can expect Huntsman to speak about the upcoming election. He may also address challenges facing the soon to be elected President in the current economy and the direction of the Republican Party in the future. As the former U.S. Ambassador to China, he may also touch upon the impacts of his foreign experiences in shaping his current and future political career. David Tse ’15 hopes that Huntsman will address topics “the public isn’t usually privy to, just because of the nature of the information." Personally, I am most excited to see how Huntsman answers questions from the audience. In regular CMC fashion, student audience members will not let Huntsman get away without answering a few difficult questions.

When Huntsman does come to campus, his arrival will most likely not come with much controversy. Instead of the protests seen last year for Condoleezza Rice, I postulate that Huntsman will arrive as discreetly as Taylor Swift because of his centrality as a candidate. As Su put it, “[Since Huntsman is] a moderate candidate, his reception will be more warm . . . People will want to hear him talk because he’s more centric than most candidates.”

Students in Linssen’s shoes can still attend Huntsman’s talk, if equipped with a 5C ID, in the Ath’s 125-person standing room. As those spots are likely to fill up quickly, students also have the opportunity to watch a live-stream of the talk at McKenna Auditorium.