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Union searches for speakers chair

Students looking to rub shoulders with the likes of Spike Lee, Carl Bernstein and Dr. Jocelyn Elders may have their chance now that the chair of the Major Speakers division of the Duke University Union is up for grabs.

Union President Jesse Panuccio appointed sophomore Ariane Vinograd at the end of last year, but Vinograd transferred from Duke over the summer, leaving the position vacant.

The Major Speakers chair is one of the most highly visibly leadership positions within the Union, Panuccio said. The committee brings six major speakers to Duke each year and has an annual budget of about $57,000.

"The chair is in charge of all aspects of the major speakers series for the year, including contacting agents, finding possible speakers, working on contracts, and then once a speaker is booked, arranging transportation and hospitality," Panuccio said.

In past years, the committee has brought in Nobel Peace Prize-winner Lech Walesa, attorney Johnnie Cochran, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, author Gloria Steinem and Survivor winner Richard Hatch, as well as filmmaker Lee, journalist Bernstein and former surgeon general Elders.

Panuccio and Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said the committee is currently underfunded, and the chair and her colleagues will need to work to bring in both big and small names, despite limited funds.

"The funding challenges to be able to support such a broad array of speakers is daunting, and I'm beginning to believe that we don't necessarily have sufficient funds allocated to Major Speakers or [attractions] or some of the other programming groups that deliver key activities to students," Moneta said. "This will be part of our analysis of the student activities fee as a continuation of last year's discussions with student leaders."

Panuccio added that in past years, the committee has brought in six speakers, but since speaking fees have recently skyrocketed, a more realistic target is four.

The chair's first priority will be to bring in a big-name speaker for Parents' Weekend October 25 to 27, Panuccio said. In 2001, families and community members packed Page Auditorium to hear Walesa speak.

"We need someone who can be dedicated to the job," said Panuccio, who chaired the committee two years ago. "It takes an enormous amount of work"

The position will be advertised this week around campus and on the Union's website, and Panuccio will hold interviews for all interested applicants next week.