The topic of this year’s MAYDAY! Conference focused on the ongoing attacks against journalists, the media, and their role as “the strongest guardians sustaining peace and human rights in our world.” The keynote speaker for this year’s conference was Thomas Friedman. Outside of being an internationally recognized journalist for his decades-long career with The New York Times and a best-selling author, Friedman is highly controversial for his support of the invasion of Iraq, his war-based approach to democracy in general, and, more recently, his “big wall, big gate” stance on immigration at the southern border.
Friedman’s long career as a political commentator had the potential to make him a great keynote speaker when discussing the physical and verbal war against the press. Instead, the MAYDAY! interviewer, Roshini Rajkumar, spent her very little speaking time trying to steer Friedman towards the topic of the conference. As a result, the audience was left uninformed about the war on the press, (unfortunately) more aware of Friedman’s deeply privileged career, and “enlightened” about his dated, Baby-Boomer perspectives on global issues.
This is not to say that Friedman’s political opinions are unwanted at Gustavus. As a campus of diverse political perspectives, we are in no position to turn away speakers with differing opinions, especially as a columnist who has been a part of the evolution of journalism, globalization, and the rise of social media. The student body is, however, entitled to attend a conference that answers the questions raised by the topic. The student body is entitled to hear a speaker who actually advocates for peace, not war, at a peace conference. And the student body is entitled to question and understand his opinions. Instead of discussing the legacy of journalism, violence, and its pursuit of peaceful resolution, Friedman provided the student body with his self-absorbed resume.
The annual MAYDAY! Conference has been a tradition at Gustavus since 1981. It has an excellent record of bringing in highly-qualified speakers to speakers to comment on topics that are omnipresent in our world today, ranging from mass surveillance, abortion rights, the legacy of the Vietnam War, and peace in the Middle East, to name a few.
It is unfortunate, therefore, that events at Gustavus that were founded to further the that events at Gustavus that were founded to further the students’ education outside the classroom, like the MAYDAY! Conference and arguably the Nobel Conference, have evolved into donor events with the college’s alumni in mind first. For future events, I hope that the college will take after President Bergman’s Strategic ACTS Plan and “preserve and advance the excellence of the educational experience we offer our students.”
*Opinions expressed by the guest submissions are not necessarily those of the institution or of its student body. The contributors assume full responsibility for their information and unsigned material.