Penn professors give 60-second lectures

Topics have ranged from “John F. Kennedy’s Sex Life” to “How to Read Wild Biodiversity: Barcode It.”

· September 19, 2012, 11:10 pm

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Katiera Sordjan | DP

History professor Mary Frances Berry speaks for just 60 seconds in a lecture titled, “What Would the Founders Think: Political Polarization and the 2012 Elections.” The 60-Second Lectures, which run several times a semester, is hosted by the College.


Professor Mary Frances Berry took the stage at 11:55 a.m. A minute later, she left the stage. Her lecture was finished.

This was a 60-Second Lecture.

The lecture series, hosted by College of Arts and Sciences Dean Dennis Deturck, was first introduced in summer 1999 by Valerie Ross, the director of the Critical Writing Program.

“Our aim was to bring life to the campus” in the summertime, Ross said. “I don’t think Penn has that problem during the academic year, so I think the purpose might be a little different now.”

The lecture series is designed to be a brief, “old-fashioned soapbox”-style speech program, DeTurck said. Lecturers, invited by the dean’s office, come out to Locust Walk four times a semester to give a speech that lasts about one minute.

The speech topics have ranged from “John F. Kennedy’s Sex Life” to “How to Read Wild Biodiversity: Barcode It.” The lecture recordings are available on Facebook, YouTube and the School of Arts and Sciences website soon after they are delivered.

Wednesday’s speech was called “What Would the Founders Think: Political Polarization and the 2012 Election.” Berry, a professor of history, discussed the partisanship in today’s politics.

“We try to pick people who have something to say that is topical,” DeTurck said. “Picking Professor Berry before the election was kind of obvious.”

To see the lectures live, students have to go to Stiteler Plaza between the Compass and Stiteler Hall, or to Rodin Lounge in Fisher-Bennett Hall during bad weather. The lectures are always held at 11:55 a.m., but on varying dates as they relate to the lecture topics.

Yesterday, the crowd of 100 people formed a small semicircle around the speaker that bulged slightly onto Locust Walk.

“I saw the whole setup and I was curious,” College freshman Kahaari Kenyatta said. “I heard about the 60-Second Lectures previously in an email, but I didn’t know it was today.”

Some students have expressed concerns about how little the series seems to be advertised. “I wish I would have heard of it,” Engineering sophomore Kevin Alcedo said. “I feel like they should be promoted like preceptorials — where I get emails and they are announced everywhere.”

The lectures “give the faculty a place to be imaginative,” DeTurck said. “They certainly are not bound by a curriculum.”

Professors have frequently stepped out of the bounds of the curriculum. Camille Charles, a professor of sociology, shared a personal anecdote about race in “An Open Letter to Mister Rogers.” Beth Linker, a professor of history and sociology of science, took on a more controversial topic critiquing America’s health care system in “What’s the Matter with American Exceptionalism?”

After the lecture, the microphone and podium were quickly taken down and packed up while the crowd took complimentary Insomnia Cookies and cleared out. Although food is not the primary focus, sandwiches, tacos and Indian cuisine have all been served throughout the history of the program to appeal to students.

“It doesn’t take up a lot of time, and it’s a good way to learn new opinions,” Kenyatta said.

The next 60-Second Lecture will take place Sept. 26. Associate professor of philosophy Kok-Chor Tan will speak on “Injustice and Personal Persuits.”

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