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Times columnist to discuss college and politics in Iowa City

Frank Bruni: 'Can colleges fix our politics?'

IOWA CITY — At a time when college campuses are being shoved into political corners, often labeled liberal bastions rife with “safe spaces” and Democratic demagogues, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni this week will consider with the University of Iowa community a theory running counter to those critiques: “Can colleges fix our politics?”

“I will talk about the various ways in which we have become much, much more partisan … and I’ll talk about some of the reasons that’s happened — social media, the television landscape,” he said. “Then I’ll talk about some of the ways in which college administrators, college teachers and college students could map out and shape the college experience so that students don’t graduate and go out into the world with such hard-boiled perspectives.”

From supporting diverse classroom debate to offering tips for a healthy news and information diet, Bruni said, colleges can be intentional about producing graduates who listen to those they don’t agree with and value compromise and common ground over passionate partisan splits.

“I’ll talk about a different way to set up your information universe so that you’re not just constantly marinating your own pre-established convictions,” he told reporters during an interview in advance of his visit to campus Tuesday.

Bruni, who has been an Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times since 2011, will speak at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Englert Theatre. The free event is hosted by the University Lecture Committee.

With columns appearing every Sunday and Wednesday, he’s had a front-row seat to what he characterizes as an “extremely unique time” in the nation’s history and news landscape.

“Just the velocity of the news,” he said. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

Part of that, Bruni said, is the result of the changing nature of media.

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“But part of that’s the nature of this presidency and administration, which thrives on a certain amount of disarray and chaos,” he said of the Trump administration. “I think that’s changed the news moment.”

He brings to this week’s discussion a wealth of editorial experience covering not only higher education and politics but gay rights — as the Times’ first openly gay Op-Ed columnist.

He was named GLAAD’s newspaper columnist of the year on several occasions and in fall 2016 received the Randy Shilts Award for his lifetime contributions to LGBT Americans from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

Bruni joined the Times in 1995 and has served as White House correspondent, chief restaurant critic, staff writer for the Times Magazine and Rome bureau chief. He’s written several best-sellers, including, “Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania.”

When considering this time in America, with its growing polarization, Bruni said addressing free thought on campuses might be more than ideal. It might be imperative.

“I’m very concerned,” he said, calling colleges “a very sharp mirror of what’s happening elsewhere in society.”

“And so to single out colleges is not quite right, but to focus on colleges is absolutely right because that’s a moment in life when you have a captive audience, when people are still figuring out how they’re going to live, how they’re going to approach the world,” he said. “It’s a great juncture, it’s a great moment, to ask people to think about these sorts of things before they are so ingrained in their head that they can’t change their behavior or their thinking.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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