Prof. Gary Saul Morson discusses new book with University President Morton Schapiro, concludes A Day with Northwestern


Sylvana Caruso/The Daily Northwestern

Gary Saul Morson, a professor of Slavic languages and literature, talks about his new book that he edited with University President Morton Schapiro. Morson’s lecture, which was part of A Day with Northwestern, focused on the book’s themes including the future of both civil liberties and education in the humanities.

Peter Kotecki, Reporter

Slavic languages and literature Prof. Gary Saul Morson previewed his new book with University President Morton Schapiro about predictions for the world in 2040 during his keynote speech Saturday at this year’s A Day with Northwestern.

Morson spoke to a nearly full McCormick Auditorium to conclude the Northwestern Alumni Association-sponsored event. A Day with Northwestern, which consists of lectures by prominent NU faculty and alumni, has attracted alumni, students and parents for more than 40 years. This year, more than 430 attendees spent the day at Norris University Center for the event, which included 14 presentations on science, arts, journalism and more.

Morson focused his speech on topics discussed in “The Fabulous Future? America and the World in 2040,” the book he edited with Schapiro. The book, which comes out in May, was inspired by “Alternatives: Modeling Choice Across the Disciplines,” an undergraduate humanities class taught by Morson and Schapiro.

Morson addressed the main themes of the upcoming book, including the problems associated with predictions, the future of civil liberties and the future of education in the humanities. He made connections to “The Fabulous Future: America in 1980,” a book of predictions written in the 20th century by individuals such as former Radio Corporation of America Chairman David Sarnoff and former Chief Justice Earl Warren.

“Surely, it would be hard to assemble a group any smarter than those authors of 60 years ago,” Morson said. “If they were wrong, it was not because of lack of brain power, and so it is reasonably safe to assume that our best guesses will look as absurd half a century from now as theirs do today.”

Diane Knoepke (Weinberg ‘00), a SESP graduate student, attended Morson’s lecture and said she looks forward to reading Morson and Schapiro’s book.

“I have seen Morty talk on higher ed before, and a lot of those trends, when he was talking about MOOCs and customized, individualized education, all of that is just really fascinating,” Knoepke said.

She said the topics Morson discussed are both exciting and scary, and she wonders whether higher education will be harder or easier to access in the future.

Larry LaTourette (Weinberg ‘92, Graduate School ‘92), chair of the A Day with Northwestern executive board, said the annual event has grown in attendance and scope over the years.

“Sometimes we work on a theme for the day, but most of the time it’s a little looser than that,” he said. “It depends really on the topics that are important during that period.”

Past lecture choices have been influenced by national topics like presidential elections and popular topics at NU, LaTourette said.

“Right now, Northwestern has a very big emphasis on things like nanotechnology. It has an emphasis on the arts,” he said. “Those are aspects that we try to incorporate.”

LaTourette added the alumni association also seeks talent among the faculty and alumni it invites to speak at the annual event.

“If we can find somebody who is compelling, if we can find somebody who is notable and has a strong tie to the University, we will try to get them as well,” LaTourette said.

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