RFK Jr. to speak at Columbia College

Friday, February 11, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:35 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 5, 2008

Next month, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will speak as part of this year’s Schiffman lecture series at Columbia College.

Kennedy, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Council and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, will speak on “Our Environmental Ethical Destiny” at 7:30 p.m. March 9 in Launer Auditorium. The event is free and open to all.

He will be the third speaker in the Althea and John Schiffman Ethics in Society Lecture Series, which began in the spring of 2003. The series is funded by a $1.5 million gift donated in 2000 by college trustee John Schiffman.

Schiffman, of St. Louis, chose to endow the college in his wife’s name after her death in 1987. Althea Whitcraft Schiffman, a 1941 graduate of Columbia College, was also a member of the Board of Trustees for four years.

“(John Schiffman) was most interested in the issue of ethics in modern society,” said Anthony Alioto, professor and Schiffman chair in ethics, religious studies and philosophy. “His message to the students was integrity, honesty and compassion. He wanted to start discussion on them.”

Alioto and assistant professor of philosophy Mark Price coordinate the lecture events and classroom visits that allow students to have one-on-one time with speakers, Alioto said.

“The most important thing about the series is the impact it has upon campus,” Price said. “The speaker’s theme and message become discussion points around campus between students, faculty and staff.”

But it’s not easy selecting a speaker, and it is even tougher to organize the visit. Alioto said some of the process is luck because finding people with expertise in the issues, as well as working with their schedules, can be hard.

“We go around and talk to students, faculty and the community and try to identify an issue, then we sit down and try to find a person who exemplifies that,” Alioto said.

One previous speaker was John Kasich, former congressman and host of the Fox television show “From the Heartland with John Kasich,” who spoke on business ethics. In 2004, Arun Gandhi, the fifth grandson of Muhatma Gandhi, gave a speech called “Lessons Learned from Grandfather: The Ethics of Nonviolence.” Arun founded the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in Memphis.

Kim Albrecht, a senior political science major at Columbia College, attended the previous lectures as well as the student visit held when Gandhi spoke.

“We got to meet Gandhi and take pictures while he told stories about his grandfather,” Albrecht said. “It was neat to hear personal stories from him, because it means more than reading something from a textbook.”

This year, the topic is environmental ethics, and Kennedy, author of best-seller “Crimes Against Nature,” will sign books as well.

As for the future of the lecture series, Alioto said there hasn’t been discussion about the next speaker — but there is no shortage of issues.

“Ethics is becoming evermore important, so we are thinking about things with media or sports,” Alioto said. “So many possibilities are open.”

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