Day 20: Friday, April 11th, 2014
One of the best parts of attending UCDC for a quarter is the abundance of knowledge available to students and the incredible networking opportunities that come with being at a prestigious college program in a major political and media market.
Every Monday, a different guest speaker puts on a forum at the UCDC center, with a Q&A following a conversation with a moderator. Students even have the opportunity to meet personally with the speakers at the conclusion of the forum.
Just between February and May, the Center will be graced by the presence of journalists Molly Hooper of The Hill, Ray Suarez of Al Jazeera, and Dana Priest of the Washington Post, politicians Ralph Nader and Ruben Zamora of the El Salvadorian Embassy, and Kaya Henderson, the Chancellor of the DC Public School System.
In my opinion, we had the most interesting speaker of all this past Monday. Our guest was James Woolsey, the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency who served under the Clinton administration. Woolsey is a Rhodes Scholar from Oxford University and received an LLB from Yale before beginning a career that spans six decades.
A foreign policy expert and lawyer by trade, Woolsey presented himself in a manner that would befit a courtroom. Walking around the room and speaking towards the audience as if it were a jury, the bulk of Woolsey’s conversation with moderator Marc Sandelow consisted of his reasoning for why protecting our nation’s electric grid should be our primary national security concern.
However, Woolsey is also a bit of a controversial figure, and when his hard-line political stances on treason and terrorism were brought into question, the evening got interesting. He is outspoken about intervention in the middle east, and he has also been quoted as saying Edward Snowden “should be prosecuted for treason and if convicted by a jury of his peers, be hanged by the neck until he is dead.”
During the Q&A portion of the forum, one student from the University of Michigan took it upon himself to question Woolsey on these statements. However, the manner in which he did so was….. unprofessional to say the least. The student rapid-fired accusations of incompetence at Woolsey before asking his ultimate question, “Why should we listen to anything you’re saying?”
The mood in the room instantly changed. The rest of the students were shocked that one of their peers would blatantly disrespect such a prominent figure in a public setting like the UC Center. Today is Friday, and the incident is still being talked about and was the first thing that was discussed in Sandelow’s class on Wednesday.
While the rest of the room was aghast, Woolsey just gave a small chuckle and kept 110% of his composure. His response was priceless. I’ll give you a couple of my favorite quotes from Woolsey. Pardon me if they’re a word or two off from the exact quote, I wasn’t recording the incident.
“I’m used to people trying to fluster me by rapid-firing questions and accusations, but I didn’t expect that in a venue like this.”
“In response to one of your 43 biased questions, you made a claim about something I said in my book. I never wrote a book.”
“You criticize us for not finding anthrax in Iraq. How well would you have done finding a couple of suitcases in the backseat of a Volkswagen somewhere within the perimeter of the entire country?”
The student was obviously not satisfied with Woolsey’s answers, as he audibly scoffed within a few words of Woolsey’s response. He then was the sole participant in the world’s most obnoxious over-clap when Woolsey finished speaking.
The student was adamant about receiving an explanation for Woolsey’s stance on Snowden. Woolsey referenced leaked information about the CIA’s fighting of human trafficking as an example of Snowden’s apparent treason.
Granted, Woolsey seemed to address the letter of the question, rather than the spirit of the question. Woolsey did not address the elephant in the room, his position on the NSA spying on American citizens and the collection of mass data.
Regardless, the way the question was presented was rude and disrespectful, especially to someone with the credentials of James Woolsey. So a note to future UCDC students: do not be afraid to challenge the speakers if they have a controversial opinion that you disagree with. But do so in a manner that you would be proud to have reflect on the institution and the rest of your peers, or else risk being known as “that person.”