Clare Myers, Staff Writer
The University of Dallas hosted a public discussion on immigration, part of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) series, “The Public Philosopher,” this past Sunday. Moderated by Harvard University professor Michael Sandel, the debate was open to UD students, faculty and staff, and members of the Irving community.
Although according to Renee Davis, a student liaison for the event, several hundred students applied for spots in the audience, Lynch Auditorium was not filled to capacity. However, those that did attend were engaged and opinionated.
The question at the heart of the matter was written on a sign posted to the podium at the front of the auditorium: “How far should an open society go in accepting outsiders?”
The responses from the crowd were varied and well-articulated. Mukul Devichand, a senior producer at the BBC, said that he was impressed with the respect that pervaded the discussion. One passionate interchange in particular, between sophomore politics major Phil Wozniak and Blanca, an undocumented immigrant and college graduate, left an impression on many in the audience.
“It was very memorable,” Devichand commented, calling it a “nice civil exchange.”
Sandel approached the issue from many angles. He challenged the audience to consider moral and economic arguments, taking into account wage and job competition, public benefits and the idea of a shared national identity.
“Immigration is so fiercely debated because it raises these fundamental questions about what it means to be a citizen,” he said.
The debate was certainly lively; Sandel mediated gracefully, with neutral questions and a sense of humor, and the question-and-answer format was frequently punctuated with applause and laughter.
Some in attendance saw the public event as a telling reflection on the character of the university. It showcased the intellectual atmosphere at UD and at the same time revealed certain deficiencies.
“It was interesting to see people’s insights but, at the same time, it validated the fact that UD doesn’t know much about foreign policy,” said junior politics major Tiffany Tran. “We’re so focused on the past … that we forget what is happening in the world right now.”
The discussion continued for 45 minutes longer than the producers intended; since it is not a live broadcast, the episode will have to be shortened to an appropriate length. Although it does have to be edited, the team will ensure that “the views that were in the room are fairly represented,” Devichand said.
“The whole point of this type of discussion is to create a different format,” he explained. “Our aim throughout this program is not to side with one or the other.”
The broadcast will be available on the BBC website after Oct. 23. The next episode in the series will be hosted by Harvard University. It will focus on another topic of interest in the run-up to the presidential election: the “American dream” of individual success, and the question of whether it is a reality or a myth.