Dr. Joseph McRae Mellichamp is Emeritus Professor of Management Science in the Manderson Graduate School of Business at the University of Alabama and National Faculty Representative for Christian Leadership Ministries. For 25 years, Dr. Mellichamp combined successful academic pursuits with effective Christian ministry activities.
A variation of the lecture approach to outreach that is unique enough to warrant separate treatment is the lecture forum. Two different formats have been used on many campuses with good results in terms of raising the general level of awareness of spiritual issues on campus and generating contacts from faculty and staff. These formats are the Faculty Forum and the Veritas Forum.
The Faculty Forum is basically a series of lectures sponsored by the Christian Faculty/Staff group; each lecture is given by a Christian professor or staff member who usually is a member of the fellowship. The lectures typically have a common theme, but they reflect the various academic disciplines or research interests of the individual presenters. For example, several years ago, the Christian faculty and staff at the University of Wisconsin launched a series called "I Dissent." The individual talks and presenters were:
The lectures are usually scheduled weekly at the same time and location and are open to everyone in the university community. This format has been followed on different campuses including Texas A&M, where the idea actually originated, and the University of Illinois. The faculty and staff at the University of North Texas recently held a series titled "The Last Lecture Series: What Some of Your Favorite Professors Would Say if Given One Last Opportunity." One of the talks in this series was "Thou Shalt not Bear False Witness Against the Religion of Thy Neighbor." You can see that part of the success of this format is in the use of catchy titles for the talks.
Another interesting variation of the Forum Format was initiated by a dormitory Resident Adviser at Purdue University. This young woman put together a panel of professors to discuss issues of interest to students as part of the dormitory’s enrichment series. She made sure that the Christian faculty was well-represented on the panel. The program allows each panel member to make individual remarks to the issue being discussed, and then has the panel field questions from the audience. The program has been done for a couple of years: it works well and draws a large crowd of students. Since Resident Advisers in many university settings are required to have a certain number of enrichment programs each year for residents, and residents are encouraged to attend the programs, this is a good venue for getting Christian ideas in the marketplace. This is the kind of creative approach that Christian professors and staff need to be taking on their campuses. We can learn from our students -- my hat is off to the R.A. who initiated this approach!
As is the case with single lecture outreaches, follow-up is also a key for Faculty Forums. The basic follow-up strategy outlined for Favorite Faculty Events is applicable here with minor modifications because of the recurring nature of the talks.
The Veritas Forum, which originally began at Harvard University, is similar to the Faculty Forum with some important differences. Veritas is a Latin word meaning Truth. The concept behind the Veritas Forum is to focus attention of the university community on issues that relate to truth. The Veritas Forum accomplishes this with a week-long series of seminars given by some of the most outstanding scholars in the country. The forum is heavily advertised in student and local newspapers and other media, including banners in prominent campus locations and hundreds of posters before and during the actual week of meetings. Each week night, Monday through Thursday, there is a plenary talk presented by one of the featured speakers. These sessions are open to the campus community and to the general public. In past Veritas Forums, these have averaged nearly 1,000 people per session. There is usually a luncheon of some sort each weekday that will include a talk for more general campus audiences by one of the featured speakers, as well as afternoon seminars that tend to be a bit more oriented to a particular discipline or interest area within the campus community. For example, most forums have had one luncheon directed toward international students and faculty. Often the afternoon sessions are hosted by a particular department in the institution.
Here is the schedule of evening talks for the Veritas Forum held at Ohio State University in the fall of 1994. The overall theme of the talks was "Truth on Trial."
To date, Christian Leadership Ministries has been involved in almost two dozen of these forums. Several campuses have done more than one forum. I was privileged to be an afternoon seminar speaker at the University of Florida’s first Veritas Forum in 1996. I remember walking around campus seeing Veritas Forum banners and posters plastered all over the place. There were ads and editorials in the student newspaper. It was as though the entire attention of the campus was focused on the events of the forum. I realize that my impressions were biased by my involvement, but going beyond my bias, there was an incredible amount of media directing attention to the forum events. There was an air of excitement I have seldom experienced in the large auditorium that was the venue for the evening talks. Every night for four nights, there were large crowds for the talks -- many students, but also many adults as well, either university faculty and staff or people from the Gainesville community. The question-and-answer times for the evening talks were interesting and reflected that many of those in the audience were seeking answers to life’s difficult questions. Many apparently had rejected religious solutions and were looking for something more.
Obviously, such an undertaking requires much in the way of manpower and financial resources. The more successful Veritas Forums have had the involvement of many Christian student organizations and many local churches, with all groups contributing both manpower and finances. If you decide to take on a Veritas Forum, you should contact Christian Leadership Ministries for detailed information on how to organize and plan for the event. There is also a charitable organization that will underwrite some of the costs involved with getting speakers -- honoraria and travel expenses.
© Copyright 1997, Joseph McRae Mellichamp
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