ARCO Forum In 1978, the $1,131,280 bill to build the Forum
space was paid for by the oil company Atlantic Richfield or
ARCO. At a 1977 news conference, ARCO President Thornton Bradshaw
explained why. Big government, for good or for ill,
probably is with us to stay. And it is up to all of us
to all Americans to help make it as effective, sensitive,
rational, and responsive as possible. In September of
this year, the ARCO Forum was renamed the John F. Kennedy
Jr. Forum. A commemorative plaque recognizes ARCOs contribution,
and a new ARCO Lecture Series is slated to begin next year.
the scenes The Forums dont run themselves. Crews
from building services, media services, and catering get the
events set up, filmed, and fed. There have also been many
Forum directors over the years, including most recently Cathy
McLaughlin (now Institute of Politics director) and currently,
Bill White MPA 2003. Two staffers, Karin Kane Bloom and Greg
Wilson, work long hours rounding out the team. With White
they track down speakers, coordinate schedules, book flights
and hotel rooms, hire ushers, and push for publicity. They
also attend every Forum even if there are six or seven
in one week. (This happens.) Luckily, the staff doesnt
also have to come up with all the ideas for Forums. Students,
faculty, book publishers, politicians, friends, and even family
members make pitches 600 to 800 each year.
cartoonists Dan Wasserman,
an editorial cartoonist at the Boston Globe, once wrote that,
Political cartoons, by their nature, are rude. They
interrupt, they raise their voices, they wave their graphic
hands. They specialize in prodding and provocation.
They can also be just a plain ol good time as audiences
witnessed when the editorial cartoonists came to the Forum
back in 1980, then again in 2002. During last years
event, the panelists were caught off guard when David Pryor,
then-director of the Institute of Politics, asked them to
do some impromptu sketching. Hesitant at first (perhaps the
muse wasnt around?), the crew eventually pulled out
sketchpads and started to draw.
rehearsal After a long career filled with live concerts,
Oscars, and paparazzi, it seems improbable that when Barbra
Streisand spoke here in 1995, she insisted on having a closed,
full dress rehearsal the night before because she was so nervous.
(A first in Forum history.) Joao Abss, media services manager,
was one of the few people allowed in. She was very detail-oriented.
We had to set the whole thing up, cameras and all, like it
was the real thing, he said.
Former Forum Director Nick Mitropoulos once likened the Forum
to the old Boston Garden when the Celtics were on a roll.
You can have that kind of excitement in the Forums
space, he said in 1998. Add smoke and fire and it gets
that much better. On election night 2000, the Forum was packed
with return watchers. The place was buzzing with excitement
in what would become one of the nations most contentious
presidential battles in history. People were booing. People
were cheering. Then the fire alarm went off at about 11:30
p.m. The old-fashioned popcorn machine started smoking. In
no time, the Cambridge Fire Department evacuated everyone
to the sidewalk. It was cold. The sky was pitch black. But
no one left. After the fire department gave the all-clear
sign, everyone came back inside and picked up where they left
off. Eventually, at 1:15 a.m., a weary Bill White went to
the podium and told people they had to start heading home.
forum Ever wonder who graced the stage first? September
20, 1978: Personal Perspectives on Politics with IOP
room Yes, there is a Green Room! Also known as the Living
Room or the Hold. Its where speakers have their pictures
taken usually by freelance photographer Martha Stewart,
an icon at the school for nearly 25 years and then
get ready to go on. If youre facing the school from
the JFK Street side, its to the right of the front steps.
But remember: green may mean go in some circles, but this
Green Room is VIP only!
numbers First academic year: about 36 Forums. Today: 80
to 100. More than 1,700 events in 25 years. The space fits
500 people; 700 if smaller equipment is used. About 150 extra
spaces are available in overflow rooms set up with televisions.
Four mikes on three floors.
of Politics Known as the IOP, this group funds
and runs the Forum Program. Created in 1966 as a living memorial
to President John F. Kennedy to inspire students, especially
undergraduates, to enter careers in politics and public service,
the IOP was a favorite of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
At initial planning meetings, she was adamant that the IOP
inspire debates. I want an environment like the Boul
Mich Boulevard St. Michel on the Left Bank of Paris
with people sitting around in cafés, talking
among themselves, she said.
birthday Every year from 1988 to 1995, the Forum celebrated
President John Kennedys birthday with a panel discussion
exploring some aspect of public service and his legacy. John,
Jr., and Ted participated in almost all of them.
Scores of Kennedys have been active in the Forum over the
years. John, Jr., served on the IOPs senior advisory
committee for 15 years before his death in 1999, and spoke
many times. Ted is on the advisory board and was at the Forums
dedication in 1978. Hes spoken at many events and coined
the now often-quoted phrase describing the Forum: A
crossroads by day and a meeting place by night. Caroline;
Rory; Robert, Jr.; Kerry; Jean Kennedy; Michael; Ted, Jr.;
Patrick; and Joe have also been speakers.
it rip A recent Forum poll shows that people want more
debates. The first Forum debate may have set the standard.
Back on October 24, 1978, during a live radio broadcast, Massachusetts
gubernatorial hopefuls Ed King, a conservative Democrat, and
Francis Hatch, a moderate Republican, faced off. Hatch opened
with, Ed King ran Massport
with a credit card for
the boys in one hand and the other hand on the throttle of
a bulldozer. It got ugly. As Boston Globe columnist
Mike Barnicle wrote the next day, The two candidates
tossed words around like they were chairs in a barroom fight,
and they did it only for the benefit of the crowd in the auditorium
and a radio audience.
ado about something! George H. W. Bush. Cesar Chavez.
Betty Friedan. Carl Sagan. Mario Cuomo. Queen Noor. Desmond
Tutu. The Dalai Lama. Marion Wright Edelman. Oscar Arias Sanchez.
Jeanne Kirkpatrick. Saul Bellow. Bill Kristol. Zoran Djindjic.
Benazir Bhutto. Jack Kemp. Dick Thornburgh. Jesse Jackson.
Sarah Jessica Parker. Doris Kearns Goodwin. David McCullough.
Cornell West. Gerald Ford. Madeline Albright. Vaclev Klaus.
Studs Terkel. Lesley Stahl. Bill OReilly MPA 1996. Bill
Clinton. Newt Gingrich. F. W. deKlerk. Noam Chomsky. Gloria
Steinem. Need we say more?
regulars You see them at every event. The older people
sitting up front, having a great time. Usually from the neighborhood,
theyre as reliable as the mailmen, said
one Forum staffer. Theyre often retired. Some get all
dressed up. Others bring their dinner and make a night of
it. They even hold seats for one another.
boxes Study carrels by day, cushiony Forum perches by
night. The upholstered seats that line the staircases in the
Forum that look like opera boxes are one of the unique features
of the space. There are 12 boxes, each measuring 53"
x 120". The boxes got a facelift with this past summers
renovations: new carpet, new seats, and refinished maple benches.
The railings remain the same.
riser To most Forum goers, the press riser in the back
of the room means nothing. The gray, carpeted steps are usually
taped off for reporters and TV cameras. If youre lucky
enough to get on it, youre elevated a little, giving
you a slight advantage in seeing the speaker. But for the
most part, the press riser is just the press riser. To those
who made the transition from the old Littauer building to
the new Kennedy School building back in 1978, however, the
press riser had a special meaning. Thomas Schelling, head
of the early MPA program once said: When I was a graduate
student here, I learned an awful lot on the steps of Littauer
Center. But in the Northeast, the climate allows only about
two months in the academic year to learn that way. Now our
students have in the Forum the comfortable, finest upholstered
equivalent of the front steps of Littauer, and a whole year
to learn from one another.
One of the unwavering features of the Forum is the requirement
that all speakers answer questions from the audience after
theyve given their talk. As Heather Campion, a former
Forum director, noted after Chinese President Jiang Zemin
spoke at Harvards Sanders Theatre in 1997, without having
to answer questions, The controversy surrounding Jiang
Zemins speech is an important reminder that the Forums
firm policy that everyone who speaks there must take
unfiltered questions is the right one. Even in a university
setting, safeguarding truly free speech requires vigilance.
Believe it or not, the Forum space has remained pretty much
intact since it was first built in 1978. If it aint
broke, why fix it, right? Unfortunately, even though the space
wasnt broke, it was getting outdated. A week after this
years graduation, renovations began on the Forum. Plasma
screens were added to make it easier to watch from less-than-perfect
seats. A state-of-the-art sound
system was installed. The space was wired for satellite feeds
and video conferencing. New carpet, paint, and finishing touches
were added. The portrait of President Kennedy was also moved
from the wall near the front door to the wall facing the park
entrance. Renovations wrapped up in September to the tune
of $3 million, all paid for by the IOP.
Security at Forum events is usually pretty minimal
one police officer, maybe two if the topic is contentious.
But every once in awhile, the school goes on high alert
an academic lockdown of sorts. Picture sharpshooters on top
of the roof and guys in black carrying grenade bags. Imagine
bomb-sniffing dogs checking lockers and the streets surrounding
the school closed to traffic. It happened in 1995, with Palestinian
leader Yasser Arafat and in 2002, with Pakistani President
sells Presidents. Foreign diplomats. Military figures.
These are the easy sells the types of Forum speakers
that no one at the school raises an eyebrow at when its
announced theyre going to be here. But poets? Rappers?
Celebrities? When actor Warren Beatty came in 1999, there
was fear his visit would ruin the school. There
was concern when Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura a
former pro wrestler came that same year for a live
taping of Chris Matthewss Hard Ball College Tour.
And when it was suggested in 2001, that Eve Ensler bring her
Vagina Monologues to the Forum, the staff got
the big N-O. (She eventually came, packing in a huge female
undergraduate crowd.) Interestingly, despite their initial
reservations, the serious-minded become converts once they
see the events.
undergraduate participation As much as Kennedy School
graduate students hate to admit it, the kids over at the college
play a key role in the Forum. They sit on the advisory board,
track down speakers, research and write the programs, and
usher at the events. Look for the eager people walking around
in crimson fleece vests.
Until fairly recently, if you couldnt make it to Cambridge
to watch a Forum in person, you were basically out of luck.
You might be able to catch a 30-second sound bite on your
local 11 p.m. news or read a story the next morning in the
Boston Globe or Washington Post. A few biggies get rebroadcast
on C-Span. But today, you dont need to rely on outside
media. With a computer and the latest version of RealPlayer,
you can watch events live via the Internet. (To date, President
Musharraf received the biggest online audience when he spoke
in September 2002.) And this fall, as part of the Forum renovations,
a new server is allowing all Forums to be archived, in their
entirety, on the IOP Web site for future video viewing.
Everyone wants to know: What kind of special requests do speakers
make? Bowls of M&Ms in the Green Room? Photographers shooting
only from the left side? Surprisingly, there havent
been many, at least no outrageous ones. One speaker asked
to be picked up from his private jet in a Mercedes S Class.
(Request denied. The staff picked him up in a black Crown
Victoria.) Most of the special requests have to do with something
much simpler: water. European speakers dont like ice.
Some speakers dont want open glasses on the podium.
Most ask for bottled.
No ones ever accused the Forum of having a split personality,
but on certain nights of the year, the space does get temporarily
transformed from a center of serious debate to a center of
lots of lighter things. In the late 1970s, students discoed
there. In December, the space becomes the annual faculty and
staff holiday party. The SIF auction calls it home, as does
the annual student talent show in April. The Mid-Careers have
15 seconds to introduce themselves each September onstage.
One June, the space even hosted graduation during a rainstorm.
clapboard house Located at 78 Mount Auburn Street, this
was the original, tiny home for the IOP. At the time the Forum
was being built in 1978, the IOP was on the hunt for a larger
place to bring in speakers. Eventually, it was decided that
the IOP would move to the Kennedy School and both manage and
fund the Forum events.
There may be no free lunch, but there are free Forums
in fact, all are free. Thats the beauty. Theres
never a cover charge. Zilch. Zip. Zero. The speakers even
speak for free. (They get one free night at the Charles Hotel
and free airfare, coach only.) Democratic political consultant
James Carville apparently doesnt mind. One of the main
reasons he always accepts an invitation to speak in the Forum,
he says, is because of the no-cost night at his favorite area
hotel. Carvilles spoken three times in the last six