Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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More than Marvin

More than 400 neon green T-shirts advertised the first day of the weeklong Veritas Forum by asking if students agreed with Marvin.

But when the forum began Wednesday, the Northwestern community had questions of its own: who is Marvin, what does it mean to agree with him, and what is Veritas Forum?

It’s more than Marvin, organizers say. In its first year at NU, the forum’s many dimensions are evident through its purpose, history, planning process, publicity and even the criticism it has drawn.

‘A roaring fire of discussion’

NU Veritas Forum co-founder Ethan Schrum said the conference explores the influence of Jesus Christ on all aspects of university life, including students’ lives, relationships and academic work.

“We’d love to see Veritas Forum as the kindling of a roaring fire of discussion on the bearing of Christ on issues of the university,” he said.

Schrum and his fellow co-founders, Associate Music Prof. Richard Ashley and law student Morse Tan, said they hope to see God lifted up on campus and recognized as the creator of the world. Through the forum, they hope to share the fullness of life in Christ and to see many philosophical questions approached from a Christian perspective.

Events: ‘Who I am on campus’

The forum began in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on Wednesday with “Voices from Northwestern,” an eight-person panel discussion of faith’s impact on the lives and work of NU professors, students and alumni.

Kelly Monroe, who co-founded the original Veritas Forum at Harvard University in 1992, moderated the event.

Before the event, NU co-founder Ashley said it would be a good opportunity for the exchange of ideas between the panelists and NU students.

“A lot of people feel like they have to hide their faith, like it’s either silence or suicide,” Ashley said. “I want to be free to be who I am on campus, and this is a step in that direction.”

On Thursday, the forum featured sessions titled “International Economic Justice” and “Gods and Goods in Business Ethics” before keynote speaker William Lane Craig spoke on “Life without God” at Pick-Staiger.

Craig, an internationally renowned Christian philosopher, offered his perspectives on religious versus faithless existence.

The weekend will be filled with sessions on Christianity and its relation to academic topics like bioethics, professional studies and economics. At Lutkin Hall, artists showcased their work and its Christian influences.

The forum will shift to NU’s Chicago campus on Saturday and will conclude there Wednesday.

History: ‘It’s grassroots’

Veritas originated at Harvard University in 1992 when a group of scholars collaborated on “Finding God at Harvard,” a book about their personal experiences with Christianity in their lives and work.

“For them, education was more about being transformed than informed,” Monroe said.

Since then, more than 80 secular universities have hosted Veritas Forums, she said.

According to Monroe, the founders never meant for the Veritas Forum to catch on at other colleges. Originally, she said, the founders had planned on 100 people attending the first forum. But 700 did, setting the tone for the explosive growth that would occur over the next nine years.

Monroe said each Veritas is entirely indigenous, with each university planning and individualizing the programming.

“It’s not a top-down organization, it’s a bottoms-up group,” Monroe said. “It’s grassroots.”

Planning: ‘Unity and creativity’

About two years ago, Schrum said, the founders each thought independently of having Veritas at NU. Luckily, Schrum said, mutual acquaintance Dave Ivaska connected the three together and the planning began.

They had their first meeting in January 2000 and began to decide on goals and programming for the forum.

A number of NU Christian organizations, both undergraduate and graduate, teamed up to form steering committees for the various responsibilities connected with the forum.

Some of the key planning groups include the Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Fellowship for Christian Athletes, One Love and Northwestern Community Ensemble.

Fund-raising was not difficult, Schrum said. The organizers received donations from individuals, churches and Christian fellowship groups to cover fees for speakers, room rentals and advertising.

Monroe said the planners’ diligence and dedication was one of the reasons she agreed to speak at NU’s Veritas Forum.

“These are among the brightest planners and students I’ve met anywhere,” Monroe said. “I wish we had this kind of unity and creativity at Harvard.”

Publicity: ”do you agree?’

Veritas organizers and volunteers said they considered publicity a priority and worked extensively on chalking sidewalks, making flyers and printing the neon “Marvin” T-shirts to get the word out.

According to Campus Crusade member Tiffany Bassett, “I agree with” campaigns are popular on many college campuses, though they have not been traditionally paired with the Veritas Forum.

The “I agree with” campaign, in conjunction with regular non-Marvin Veritas advertising, might have been what created such overwhelming publicity, organizers said.

“This is probably the most publicity I’ve seen for a Christian event in my five years here,” said Mike Brinkley, communications director for Campus Crusade for Christ.

One key aspect of Veritas Forum publicity was the Marvin T-shirt campaign, which featured more than 400 neon green shirts with “I agree with Marvin” on the front and “Do you?” on the back.

Campus Crusade for Christ director Chris Sarver said, “We had such a relatively short period of time after Spring Break and before Veritas that we thought the Marvin campaign would be a good way to draw attention to the forum.”

And draw attention it did, with many students asking who Marvin was, what he believed in and why people agreed with him.

“The day I wore my shirt to lab I had four people ask me who Marvin was by 9:30 a.m.,” Schrum said.

CRITICISM: ”i don’t’

The publicity, both in content and scope, has led some students to criticize the group through anti-Marvin T-shirts saying “No, I Don’t,” letters to The Daily and fliers around campus.

Some critics said they feel the advertising offended them because it implied that Christianity is the one and only truth.

“When a group comes by and says their way is the right way and doesn’t allow room for interpretation, I think there is a problem,” said Austin Harvey, a Speech freshman.

But organizers say the forum’s purpose is not to prove that Christianity is the right religion.

“Our primary goal is not to prove Christ is true, it’s to celebrate the implications of the person of Christ for our lives and universities,” Schrum said. “As a corollary we want to tackle some of the issues requiring validation of the Christian faith as a world view.”

Organizers said they welcome questions and dissenting opinions.

“It’s called a forum because we want people to ask questions,” Schrum said.

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More than Marvin