The largest endowed annual lectureship series hosted by the University of Dallas is the McDermott lecture which has existed since 1974. Among the colloquial “who’s who” list of liberal arts pioneers such as Mortimer Adler or Allan Bloom lies perhaps the most unique visitor UD has ever hosted: Mikhail Gorbachev, the first and last president of the Soviet Union.
On Oct. 8, 2007, Gorbachev arrived to a small group of faculty and administrators who guided him on a short tour of the UD campus. While he was not on campus as long as many students would have liked, he was able to speak to students and answer a number of questions that centered on contemporary geopolitical topics and his personal life. He opened the discussion by discussing his delight at speaking to college students because his wife was a philosophy professor at the university level.
Gorbachev spoke in a cathartic, reflective tone and answered deep questions about his successes and failures in politics. He was most open about his failures in politics, especially the lack of complete “perestroika,” which was a system of political restructuring and economic openness.
“I made mistakes; had I not made those mistakes, perestroika would have been more successful,” Gorbachev said through a translator. “We acted too late to reshape the party, to reshape the union, and there were many other mistakes. Nevertheless if we were to put on the scales the pluses and minuses, the pluses outweigh the minuses. That’s what I think.”
Gorbachev managed to ruffle feathers by criticizing the United States’ aggressive ballistic missile policy during critical ongoing nuclear talks between Condoleezza Rice and Russia. At one point, Gorbachev labelled the U.S. as the “American Empire” because of aggressive placement of nuclear weapons. He openly criticized U.S. policy makers for failing to transparently form and execute policy that affects even its own allies. His most provocative answer was likely a piercing question.
“Why don’t you recognize that every nation is sovereign, that every nation has a right to look over its interests, its problems?” Gorbachev said. “Instead, we see 120 U.S. military bases throughout the world. We respect the American people, we respect your nation, we respect your government, we want to be your friends, we want to be your partners, and if necessary, your allies. I think that we should not be afraid of each other, but I think that we should be responsible to our nations, to the people, and to the international community for what they do.”
In the end, despite his criticisms of the United States’ actions in international relations, Gorbachev explained his admiration for American society and found similarities between his culture and American culture.
“I think I have come to know the Americans very well, and I have a lot of affection for the American people,” Gorbachev said. “Their openness, their freedom. The Russians too are very open, very loyal in friendship. But of course for many centuries the Russian people were subservient to the czars and only now are they abandoning that legacy. I think that the next generations, the ones that will follow us, will be able to fully benefit from freedom.”