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PUBTalks an instant hit

PUBtalks organizer Ben Doehr ’14 and Professor Michael Guenther chat during the talk on Feb. 27. Photo by John Brady.

Last Thursday, Feb. 20 marked the start of Grinnell’s very own PUBTalks series. The concept derives from the well-known TEDTalks, where professionals from different fields give speeches based on their areas of expertise. Here at Grinnell, the structure gives professors 30 minutes to talk about what interests them and what they think would interest other students. Talks occur in Lyle’s Pub in the basement of the JRC.

The mastermind behind PUBTalks is student Ben Doehr ’15. The idea for the series first came while he was studying abroad in England.

Kelly Maynard, History, at PUBTalks on Feb. 27. Photo by John Brady.
Kelly Maynard, History, at PUBTalks on Feb. 27.
Photo by John Brady.

“The idea that the Pub is a gathering place for students and professors kind of drove this project for me,” Doehr said.

Doehr began this project by simply asking professors to come in and to talk about any topic they’d like. He admitted that one of the harder aspects of organizing PUBTalks was scheduling.

“A lot of professors live in Iowa City or elsewhere, so finding a good time for them to drive or working with it when they are already on campus [was a challenge],” Doehr said.

Transportation did prove to be a problem when Victoria Brown, History, could not make the event as scheduled, due to the hazardous weather last Thursday night. Luckily, Henry Rietz ’89, Religious Studies, was able to fill the open spot.

Even with last minute changes, the first PUBTalk was a success. Lyle’s Pub filled up quickly with students and other attendees who were also able to take advantage of a tab provided by SGA’s All-Campus Events budget.

The first professor to speak was Rietz. His talk was called “The Truth is Out There” and discussed whether the content written in the Bible was true. He gave Bible quotes and explained the implications behind each of those quotes.

The second professor to present was Mark Montgomery, Economics. His discussion was titled “A Very Un-Grinnellian World View.” During his presentation, he initially challenged the purpose of recycling. He began by telling the story of the Mobro 4000—an infamous garbage barge that helped propel environmental efforts in the late 1980s by supposedly showing how spaces in landfills were to the point of their capacity and to encourage recycling.

“Recycling is just a feel-good solution. It doesn’t save money and it doesn’t save trees. Landfill space is not at all a problem, nor is pollution from landfill a problem,” Montgomery said to reiterate some points he made during the talk.

His other points discussed the issue of sweatshops and how they are a progressive step toward eventual industrialization. Both ideas challenged the conventional ideas many people have towards recycling and sweatshops. Lyle’s Pub was silent as he gave countless statistics on how recycling resulted in more spending and often did less good than it claimed.

Montgomery used PUBTalks as a way to challenge students’ traditional understanding of controversial issues. Oftentimes students volunteer and recycle as a means to participate in meaningful social activism, but Montgomery countered such actions by bringing up negative consequences of them.

PUBtalks organizer Ben Doehr ’14 and Professor Michael Guenther chat during the talk on Feb. 27. Photo by John Brady.
PUBtalks organizer Ben Doehr ’14 and Professor Michael Guenther chat during the talk on Feb. 27.
Photo by John Brady.

“I think Grinnell students are interested in hearing the counter argument,” Montgomery said.

Overall, the first PUBTalk was a great success. Montgomery noted that one downfall was that students did not really have a chance to ask questions at the end of the talk. However, given the time limit, this would have been difficult.

Doehr is optimistic with the future of PUBTalks and hopes that it will garner more interest as time goes on. If proven successful this semester, he hopes to continue with the program into the 2014-2015 school year as well.

“I’d expand the talks to staff, MAP students and make it a gathering place for the community about anything interesting they want to talk about,” Doehr said.

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    Galina OvtcharovaNov 17, 2014 at 9:40 am

    It’s a great initiative! Please report on subsequent PUBTalks and provide more details on what professors say – like you did for Mark Montgomery’s talk. Also, since this series is inspired by TEDTalks, how about videotaping the talks and putting the videos on YouTube?
    BTW, having tags for your publications would be useful. I would definitely check out the tag “PUBTalks”.