BUSSMANN: Vanderbilt students should receive more than half of Bush Chancellor Lecture Series tickets

White House photo portrait, 2001. Photo by Eric Draper.

White House photo portrait, 2001. Photo by Eric Draper.

Alexa Bussmann, Content Development Director

When Vanderbilt University students, faculty and staff filled out the interest form for a ticket to hear former President George W. Bush speak at the Chancellor’s Lecture Series, the form notified applicants that half of tickets will go to students and half will go to faculty and staff via random selection.

For the 2018-2019 academic year, there are 12,824 students enrolled at Vanderbilt, including 6,861 undergraduate students and 5,963 graduate students. In comparison, Vanderbilt employs 9,153 individuals, including 4,427 staff, 4,276 faculty and 2,910 Vanderbilt University Medical Center staff. If VUMC faculty are subtracted from total staff (VUMC is an independent nonprofit organization that is financially distinct from the university), Vanderbilt employs 6,243 people –  and this number still includes VUMC staff. Subtracting VUMC staff from total Vanderbilt staff would make this number even smaller, but the number of total VUMC staff wasn’t available.

The Chancellor’s Lecture Series is hosted at Langford Auditorium, which has a capacity of 1,104. If half of all tickets are given to students, and all students completed the interest form, only 552 students will be able to attend the event. This means that only about one in 23 students will have the opportunity to hear former President Bush speak. By comparison, of the 6,243 university staff and faculty, one in 11 have the opportunity to attend.

If Vanderbilt hosted Bush at Memorial Gym with the same ticket policy, over half of students could be ensured a ticket.

If there are approximately half as many Vanderbilt University staff and faculty as there are students, then, proportionately, Vanderbilt students should make up two thirds of ticket recipients for the Chancellor’s Lecture Series. While this would only ensure that about 739 students receive tickets, it would make the audience at the event representative of the university community.

When Vanderbilt pays to host high-profile speakers, it should make every effort to allow as many students as possible to attend these lectures. One solution would be to host the lectures in a larger venue – for example, in Memorial Gymnasium, which has a maximum capacity of 14,316 people. If Vanderbilt hosted Bush at Memorial Gym with the same ticket policy, over half of students could be ensured a ticket. One in two students receiving a ticket is much better than one in 24 students receiving a ticket. Additionally, there is precedent to using this venue: Vanderbilt hosted Martin Luther King, Jr. and Margaret Thatcher at Memorial Gym in 1967 and 1996, respectively.

Alternatively, the Chancellor’s Lecture Series should provide interested students, faculty and staff who do not receive a ticket with an alternative method to view the event. For example, the university could allow the Political Science Department or Vanderbilt Law School to host viewings of the lecture in a large lecture hall in Wilson Hall, or Flynn Auditorium in the law school.

Reserving just half of CLS tickets for students is unfair: students should be the intended beneficients of these lectures. While hearing a former president speak will be a thought-provoking, once-in-a-lifetime experience for each member of the Vanderbilt community, this opportunity should be given first to the university’s students.

Vanderbilt students come from all 50 states and many countries to attend a top 15 institution. Experiencing a variety of perspectives is a critical part of the college experience, and hearing from President Bush would certainly benefit many students in expanding their perspectives and worldview. Bush served at a pivotal point in American and world history, and his decisions and rhetoric shaped the post-9/11 world. While Vanderbilt faculty and staff were likely politically aware during Bush’s presidency, most current students remember Bush as the first president they have lived under. Hearing Bush speak would allow Vanderbilt students to consider how their political views and their conception of the American presidency have changed both since their childhood and in college. Vanderbilt students can learn a lot from former President Bush, but this is impossible if they are denied entry to the event.

Vanderbilt students, faculty and staff who applied for a ticket to see former President Bush speak will find out if they were randomly selected on Friday, March 1. I hope that the Chancellor’s Lecture Series will reconsider its ticket policy to allow more students the opportunity to attend this event and future Chancellor’s Lecture Series.

Alexa is a junior in the College of Arts and Science. She can be reached at [email protected]