Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Noam Chomsky visit draws more than 1,400 to Pacific University

Noam Chomsky visit draws more than 1,400 to Pacific University

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pacific University's Stoller Center gymnasium doesn't often see crowds half as large as the one that gathered to see Noam Chomsky speak.

The 1,400-seat gymnasium was packed to capacity Wednesday afternoon as Pacific students and visitors from across the metro area gathered to listen to an hour-long lecture from the famed philosopher, linguist and political critic.

During an hourlong talk titled "Prospects for Peace in the Middle East," Chomsky, 82, spoke pointedly about the United States' involvement in Middle East affairs. He referenced recent unrest in Libya, Egypt and Bahrain, and chided the U.S. government for what he said is a pick-and-choose approach to international relations.

"Where there's an oil-rich country and the dictator is reliable and obedient, he's given free reign," Chomsky said.

Chomsky also advocated for organized labor and spoke at length about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- an issue for which his outspoken anti-Israel stance has garnered widespread scrutiny.

"If the U.S. joined the world, Israel would have to do what the master said," he told the audience, drawing applause.

Chomsky's visit is the most highly-anticipated speaking engagement at Pacific in recent history.

Chomsky is famous for his role as a left-leaning critic of U.S. foreign policy and his pioneering work in linguistics. The professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has authored more than 150 books and won countless awards. He holds honorary degrees from dozens of universities around the globe.

The visit culminated years of work by philosophy department chair Dave Boersema, who had spent almost a decade convincing Chomsky to speak at Pacific.

The crowd for Wednesday's speech reflected Chomsky's decades-long influence on American thought. Many Pacific instructors canceled classes and encouraged students to attend the lecture. Rebecca Wagner, 20, a Pacific sophomore, said she and many other students had never heard of Chomsky before his visit, but the lecture was highly anticipated among students, nonetheless.

"Everyone has been asking each other if they're going," Wagner said. "All of my professors – even science professors – have been talking about how famous he is."

Others in the crowd, such as 74-year-old Tom Mottershead and his companion Susan Lilley, 69, of Hillsboro, knew exactly who Chomsky is -- they've followed his work for decades.

"I've been reading him for years," Lilley said. "He's a great mind."

The audience was respectfully silent as Chomsky spoke, but the many people recording on smartphones, taking notes and snapping pictures made Chomsky's celebrity status clear. So did the handful of people who began lining up hours before doors opened for the 12 p.m. appearance.

University spokesman Joseph Lang said Chomsky's visit is the biggest public appearance at Pacific in recent memory. In the past year, Pacific has hosted Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser and syndicated advice columnist Dan Savage, but neither drew crowds comparable to Chomsky.

"In terms of international recognition, he is definitely among the most notable speakers we've had," Lang said.

Following the lecture, Chomsky answered audience questions for about 30 minutes. Once again, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dominated conversation.

"All of this leads to broader issues of world order, he said. "I'll talk about that somewhere else in a couple of hours."

He quickly exited the room at 1:30 p.m. sharp, rushing off to Eugene, where he'll give a free public lecture at the University of Oregon, titled "Global Hegemony: The Facts, The Images."

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