The Distinguished Speaker effect
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 19:02
UB is cursed.
Or, rather, the Distinguished Speakers Series is.
Over the past four years, I’ve had countless people tell me that only bad things happen to those who visit during the annual Distinguished Speakers Series. I never believed them – until Sunday when I found out Soledad O’Brien had her morning show, Starting Point, canceled by CNN’s new president, Jeff Zucker.
Maybe this hit close to home because I had the chance to interview O’Brien during her stop in the Queen City on Feb. 16, 2012, right after Starting Point premiered in Jan. 2012.
It’s always been a running joke amongst UB kids: important people come to campus, speak to us students and things look great for a few months. Then, suddenly, they’re in the news again and it’s never good press.
Take Greg Mortenson, for example. He came to UB in Nov. 2010. Shortly after his visit, a 60 Minutes special revealed that Mortenson had allegedly lied in his memoirs and he had used his not-for-profit organization – meant for building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan – as his own personal money tree.
UB had given Mortenson’s charity, Pennies for Peace, a check for $15,208.62 – according to a Spectrum article from April 21, 2011 – that was raised by various student and community organizations. Who knows if that money went to fund third-world education or into Mortenson’s pocket.
And it only got worse for Mortenson this past December. His Three Cups of Tea co-author, David Oliver Relin, killed himself. At only 49 years old, the journalist suffered from depression and was “hurt, emotionally and financially” over the allegations against the book, according to his family.
Lance Armstrong came to the university last April after comedian Seth MacFarlane canceled his stop. The now former seven-time Tour de France winner, cancer survivor and philanthropist was stripped of his cycling titles in October because of a doping conspiracy he led since 1999.
In January, Armstrong told Oprah the allegations were true. Since then, he’s refused to meet with the United States Anti-Doping Agency and give testimony under oath that he did, in fact, dope during his glory years.
On Friday, the U.S. Justice Department joined the civil fraud lawsuit against Armstrong, citing that the U.S. Postal Service had funded Armstrong and his teammates more than $30 million and Armstrong didn’t “play fair and abide by the rules,” as promised contractually.
But maybe UB wouldn’t have been better off with MacFarlane; the comedian is currently facing flak for his sexist and crude comments during Sunday’s Oscars.
Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke in Jan. 2011, just after Mortenson made his stop. This past September, he admitted in his autobiography that he had a “hot affair” with actress Brigette Nielsen and cheated on his wife of 25 years, Maria Shriver. He also fathered a love child with a household staff member in the ’90s.
Ex-United Nations Chief Kofi Annan stopped at UB in Sept. 2009. In August, he resigned as the U.N.’s envoy to the war-torn Syria. He quit because he didn’t believe diplomatic solutions in Syria were possible. His self-chosen departure came after many Syrian protestors demanded his removal after he failed to broker a peace plan for the country.
Laura Bush came to Alumni Arena in October; her father-in-law, George Bush, stood on the same stage in 1999. Earlier this month, a hacker by the name of Guccifer broke into multiple Bush family email accounts and uncovered many private messages, pictures and documents from 2009-12. The hacker leaked private contact info, messages about Bush Sr.’s failing health and some self-portraits painted by George W. Not really scandalous but still very embarrassing.
And I’m sure the list of affected lecturers could go on and on. The series started in 1987 and has grown every year since. The list of speaker alumni is impressive and we students are extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to hear such thinkers and public figures speak.
There’s absolutely no way (unless the Office of Special Events has clairvoyant powers) UB can predict these speakers are going to go downhill once they leave Amherst. But it sure makes for good stories around campus.