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President Arthur J. Rothkopf kicked off the first “Campus Conversation” today, ushering in a five-part discussion series addressing issues related to the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

Students, faculty, and staff filled the Farinon Center Limburg Theater to hear three faculty members talk about “The Rhetoric and the Economic Repercussions.”

Ronald Hinton ’03 introduced speakers William Carpenter, assistant professor of English; Beth Seetch, lecturer and coordinator of the College Writing Program; and Christopher Ruebeck, assistant professor of economics and business.

Before the faculty members spoke, Rothkopf encouraged those in attendance to participate: “I think what we want is not just to hear from the speakers, but also to get conversation and dialogue from the audience,” he said.

Carpenter talked about ways in which leaders, the media, and individuals use language to describe experiences. All conversation includes rhetorical motive, he explained, which aims to persuade others to adopt the worldview of the speaker. Terminology inherently selects particular perspectives to the exclusion of others, according to Carpenter.

“A critical examination of language in times of crisis is important for our roles as thoughtful members of society,” said Carpenter, who also stated that such analysis does not necessarily have to be negative.

Examining the idea that the United States is fighting a “war against terrorism,” Carpenter raised the question of whether a nation can be at war against a concept or ideology. He also noted that the language of warfare typically assumes acceptance of curtailed civil liberties.

Seetch read portions of several poems in her talk, invoking the works of Langston Hughes, W.H. Auden, Berthold Brecht, and others. Poetry attempts to clarify and articulate the complex, she noted. “The arts, and specifically poetry, can be an antidote to language imposed on us to read things in a certain way,” she said.

Before learning about the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, Seetch’s first-year seminar was preparing to discuss poetry born out of the Spanish Civil War, which included perhaps the first widespread use of terrorism.

“The resistance to terror and the ability to remember are what make the world inhabitable,” Seetch added. “I think the academic enterprise is an especially worthwhile one in times of difficulty, war, and terror. It can equip us to live a humane life — to use our imagination and knowledge to grapple with our experience.”

Seetch closed with lines from the opening stanza of an Auden poem, “September 1, 1939,” that set the scene in New York City: “The unmentionable odour of death/Offends the September night.”

Ruebeck’s comments dealt with financial markets, macroeconomics, and microeconomics. Offering an historical perspective, he noted that U.S. financial markets typically have taken a downturn after a major disaster or crisis, but in most cases, have rebounded significantly within a year. The one exception was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but that was part of an extended conflict. How the U.S. economy reacts now may depend on whether the Sept. 11 attacks result in a long-term struggle or shorter one.

Gross domestic product (GDP) as an economic indicator can be deceptive after a destructive episode, warned Ruebeck. While rebuilding infrastructure in New York and Washington, D.C. will drive up GDP, that indicator does not account for what has been lost and what other goods and services would have been produced.

The bad news, said Ruebeck, is that the U.S. may be in a recession. However, low inflation and unemployment create a good environment for the government to boost the economy through new spending. Because the average length of a recession is 11 months, a U.S. recession – if it exists — may be half over already, he said.

Ruebeck also raised the question of whether the airlines or U.S. government should pay for increased security. In either case, the cost will be passed along to the public. Despite the events of Sept. 11, the government would not necessarily have provided better security if it had taken over responsibility for it in the past, Ruebeck added.

Rothkopf shared from his government experience as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. He noted that airliner hijackings in the 1970s led to the presence of armed sky marshals on flights, but that practice was discontinued. The idea of “suicide pilots” using airliners as weapons was not considered, he said. Considering that roughly 4,000 planes are in the air at any given time, staffing them with armed sky marshals would cost billions of dollars, said Rothkopf.

The schedule for the remaining Campus Conversations:
Friday, Sept. 28: “Fundamentalism and Religious Violence,” Hogg Hall
Monday, Oct. 1: “Psychological Effects on a Nation,” Kirby Hall auditorium (room 104)
Wednesday, Oct. 3: “The Conflict,” Limburg Theatre
Friday, Oct. 5: “International Perspective on the War Against Terrorism,” Hogg Hall

Lunch is provided free of charge. The discussions run from 12:10-1:10 p.m.

The series is sponsored by the offices of the college chaplain, dean of students, dean of studies, and intercultural development; the Lafayette Activities Forum; the International Students Association; Student Government; and members of the faculty.

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