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Dr. Erik Liddell named Chautauqua Coordinator

Dr. Erik Liddell, assistant professor of foreign languages and humanities, and recently named Chautauqua Lecture Coordinator, is featured in this ongoing series designed to allow EKU leaders and others in prominent positions to discuss their roles, as well as campus issues. Liddell, who joined the faculty in 2009, spent a year at Kansas State exploring physics and engineering, then switched gears and went on to pursue and complete a bachelor’s degree (honors) in liberal studies at Brock University (Ontario), and master’s and doctoral degrees in comparative literature at the University of Toronto.

What do you believe the annual Chautauqua series contributes to the University community?
What is truly great about the Chautauqua Series is how it brings interesting and accomplished people from across the intellectual and social spectrum to speak about such a wide range of fresh ideas. (One of the goals of Chautauqua is to “refresh minds.”) Whatever the given theme might be, figures from across the country and even internationally come to campus to present their views in ways that really seek to engage and entertain, as well as inform. Chautauqua lecturers always bring their best game, so to speak, because they know that this is a unique opportunity to reach out to a wide audience and make an impact, to influence thought and action in meaningful and potentially lasting ways.

The series is also important for creating a campus wide conversation, among faculty and students. Through the lectures – as well as special musical and artistic events – the series is a wonderful enhancement to courses, to campus life, and the wider community.

What makes for a particularly outstanding series?
What makes for a great series is not just the theme, which itself should be intriguing, but also the mixture of perspectives – younger and older, academic and popular, learned and adventurous, personal and political – that speakers bring. As someone who has always had an interdisciplinary and comparative profile, I’ve personally enjoyed the way in which Chautauqua provides insight into so many different experiences and so many different ways of thinking.

As its new coordinator, what do you hope to contribute to its further growth and success?
The Chautauqua has an excellent reputation both on and off campus, and it draws students and faculty as well as people from the local community. First and foremost, I want to continue that trend by getting an exciting and interesting lineup, but I also want to appeal more fully and broadly to the surrounding community and even the region. So I was delighted when after a recent committee meeting Dean John Wade from Arts and Sciences offered to support holding a Chautauqua event at one of the satellite campuses, perhaps in Corbin or Manchester. Hopefully, we’ll be able to take the show on the road, as it were.

Also, I want to bring in regional and statewide figures to address issues of significance to Eastern Kentucky and the Appalachian region. For instance, people from across campus have already expressed a lot of interest in food and food insecurity, in a variety of issues of social justice, economy and ecology, and in the American Chestnut recovery program. Big ideas and global questions are vital, but I am also eager to hear more suggestions about how we can dovetail Chautauqua events with the particular interests of our service region.

Looking back over the last few years, what was the most memorable Chautauqua program you attended, and why?
Well, I really enjoyed Kwame Anthony Appiah’s talk about cosmopolitanism (“Ethics in a World of Strangers”) several years ago, and I was delighted to hear Peter Singer talk about ethical treatment of animals and Michael Eric Dyson discuss “Pride and Humans” – these are thinkers whose views I’ve read and always respected – but at the top I’d have to make it a tie between Richard Dawkins’ discussion of the “magic of reality” and Temple Grandin’s presentation on “sensory based thinking” in animals and humans: their presence on campus generated such a buzz, and their standing room-only performances did not disappoint. All of these speakers fascinated the audience from the start and then took the audience in deep.

But in addition, there have been great EKU professors who have taken the stage, such as Dr. Matt Winslow (Psychology), whose presentation on his empathy research was engaging and involved; he really commanded the topic and took the audience on an integrated journey through the scientific study of fellow feeling. Finally, other speakers from Kentucky have also contributed in memorable ways; for instance, Lee Dugatkin, a professor from the University of Louisville with an international reputation, has been here twice and given excellent talks on the history of science (“Jefferson and the Moose,” “The Evolution of Goodness”).

Any particular Chautauqua program in Spring 2015 that is especially appealing to you? Why?
As someone who came out of a “great books” style program, and who taught for several years at a liberal arts college before coming to EKU’s program in Comparative Humanities, I’m really interested to hear Michael Roth discuss “why liberal education matters” beyond the university walls. But as someone (I’m dating myself here) who was an original fan of the “Facts of Life” sitcom, and who supports the causes that she advocates (disability and LGBT issues), I’m very excited to meet Geri Jewell and hear her Women’s History Month keynote presentation, which I’m sure will be inspirational.

What will go into deciding and developing the theme for the 2015-16 series?
The main idea – “What If…?” has already been chosen by the Chautauqua Committee, which involves many faculty and staff from across the university. At the meeting, we considered a number of narrower themes, but what emerged was above all an interest in wonder, in possibilities, in alternative thinking, in hypotheses and speculations about the future (and the past). So when the open-ended “What If…?” question was suggested, it seemed to everyone to capture the group’s vision and was unanimously approved. Because it is so open, a ‘subtitle’ of sorts may still be added before the theme becomes official, to give potential speakers some concepts to latch onto as they craft their presentations for us.

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