Theater & Arts

University Lecture Series put on hold

A popular lecture series that has put former U.S. presidents, Pulitzer Prize winners and Hollywood filmmakers on stage at California State University, Fresno, has been shelved for now.

The University Lecture Series program has been suspended for the 2009-2010 academic year because of a recent funding gap of $44 million at Fresno State.

The series usually begins in September or October and continues over several months. Ben Stein's talk March 19 ended the 2008-09 season. The program is operated by the university's office of the provost and vice president for academic affairs.

"It's on hiatus," says Dennis Nef, who suspended the program in June when he was the university's interim provost. He now is dean of undergraduate studies. "We were trying to compensate every way we could think of to meet the demand and reduce our costs," he says. "When you take that kind of dollar hit, there are only so many places it can come out."

Nef wasn't sure if the lecture series had ever been suspended in its history.

In 1992, the university's estimated $9 million budget cuts led to a year's restructuring for the lecture series, but it continued to offer speakers.

Nef says he is hopeful the program will be reinstated.

"We certainly want to have that as an option not only for our students but for the community," he says. "We appreciate support, and we want to give back to the community. It provides some leaven to the loaf in the community."

The program costs about $40,000 to operate, in addition to other support provided by the Coke and James Hallowell foundation, the University Student Union, the Associated Students, Piccadilly Inn Hotels and KJWL-FM.

Among the university's cuts, there are 427 fewer sections offered this current semester than in the fall of 2008, Nef says.

"I felt last spring that using those dollars would allow us to use eight more sections," he says.

The program earned more attention when two former U.S. presidents spoke just a year apart -- Jimmy Carter in April 1988 and Gerald R. Ford in April 1989.

Along with their visits, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Jack Anderson spoke in December 1988 and film director Spike Lee was the speaker in March 1993.