Hauenstein Center to hold second 'Character and the Presidency' event

By Karina Lloyd | 10/1/17 10:27pm

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GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Gleaves Whitney introduces the speaker, Brian Flanagan, at Friday's Wheelhouse Talk on Feb. 12, 2016.

Renowned writers David Brooks and Ronald C. White are scheduled to come to Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus to participate in a discussion about the characteristics of a president in the second "Character and the Presidency" event. This event will be held Tuesday, Oct. 3, at 7 p.m. in the L.V. Eberhard Center, Room 215.

This year’s event, presented by the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, will allow for a moderated conversation between Brooks, White and GVSU students about the characteristics and purposes of presidents past and present. 

“I think that one of the big things of liberal education is learning how to climb above the headlines and think with an eye to the bigger picture of what it means to live in a democratic society,” said Scott St. Louis, program manager of the Hauenstein Center's Common Ground Initiative. “That means as students and as citizens we are compelled to learn broadly, to think critically, to listen sympathetically, to debate strenuously and to approach matters of public concern with that kernel of curiosity it takes to have really ... valuable conversations about the relations of our present moment to much deeper and historical patterns and trends.”

The speakers bring with them a vast knowledge of presidential philosophies and leadership based on their years in the two separate fields of journalism and historical work. Brooks is a political commentator, well-known columnist for The New York Times and contributor to NPR and PBS NewsHour. White, a best-selling historian who has written biographies on past Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, will be visiting the university for the second time, as he spoke to students last year in October. 

“We’re really proud that we can bring speakers to campus to engage with students in this way, and we’re hopeful that the students will take advantage of it,” St. Louis said.

The event will begin with a conversation between Brooks and White and will then lead into a Q&A period immediately following the event. The conversation and Q&A will be moderated by the director of the Hauenstein Center, Gleaves Whitney. 

The speakers and coordinators have met and discussed the ideas they would like to put forward through this talk.

“We want to discuss the importance of character in the presidency as a way of uniting the country around a president who really exhibits all those characteristics that you want to see in a commander-in-chief,” Whitney said. “The country as a whole needs to rediscover trust. ... The president is the most powerful person in the country, so it starts with him, and that is one of the topics they want to discuss.”

Whitney is also the creator of the Common Ground Initiative that helped set this event in motion. The Common Ground Initiative was created in 2013 and has continued to host events that focus on helping students look at the role of the presidency in our government. The event is sponsored by two West Michigan donors, U.S. ambassador to Italy Peter Secchia and Meijer CEO, Hank Meijer.  

“Like everybody else, I was looking at Washington (displaying) all of the rancor and the disagreeing with each other,” Whitney said. “There was such a basic lack of respect for people who disagree, even those within the same party, not to mention even between the parties there were qualms. 

"I thought it would be really important for a campus, a state university, to hold forums where (all parties) could come together and not just focus on their disagreements but actually try to find areas of agreement through civil discourse and historical awareness.”

The response to the program has been noteworthy, as the "Character and the Presidency" event in particular has been sold out for three weeks. Although the event is now full, St. Louis encourages students to actively listen and participate in the event.  

“The students who have signed up for the event, we would encourage them to be thinking throughout the conversation, to think of questions they may want to ask the speakers,” he said. “We will be handing the question and answer period of this event with note cards. We would ask students to maybe come with a few ideas in mind, to think of maybe a few questions they have for the speakers and by all means participate.”

St. Louis hopes that students leave the presentation with the drive to seek out more about the topics discussed at the event.

“I hope they get out of it a curiosity that will compel them (to not only) go home and read some of the things Brooks and White have written, but that will encourage them to keep coming to Common Ground events,” St. Louis said.

A video of the talk will be posted on the Hauenstein Center’s website within a week of the event for those unable to attend. Those interested in watching the video or attending other events hosted through the Hauenstein Center are invited to visit www.hauensteincenter.org for more information.

“There have been times in our history we have been able to work together,” Whitney said. “We just need to recover that. It takes an act of will, but we can do it. We are hoping our Grand Valley students and the West Michigan community ... are inspired and say, ‘We can do better as Americans.’”

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