Four professors from opposite sides of the university all met together on Monday, Oct. 14 in the Hugo Young Theatre for “Fact or Fake News: An Ashland University Faculty Panel Discussion relating today’s world events to the play, ‘An Enemy of the People.” Each professor had a different perspective to add to a play that touched on all different subjects— science, business, journalism and history.
Journalism Professor, Margaret Cogar; History Professor, Dr. John Moser; Dr. Rebecca Schmeller, assistant professor of management; and Dr. Jeffrey Weidenhamer, professor of chemistry were the featured speakers at the event, along with Dr. Teresa Durbin-Ames, artistic director of theatre and associate professor of theatre, who moderated the event.
“An Enemy of the People” was performed at AU on Oct. 11-13, and 18-19. Each show had at least 100 people in attendance.
The inspiration for the play was based on Arthur Miller’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s work.
Miller is considered to be the most significant American playwright in history, with an extensive history of his plays seeing Broadway, “An Enemy of the People” included, making its big introduction in 1950.
Durbin-Ames started off Monday’s Fact or Fake News event by telling a room of approximately 100 people the reason for reintroducing Miller’s play.
“I was first approached by President Campo about doing an Arthur Miller play in April of 2018,” she said. “He wanted the university to host the Arthur Miller Societies Conference, which included a performance by the department.”
However, it was not just the persuasion of the president that led Durbin-Ames to direct “An Enemy of the People” in particular.
“I decided on ‘An Enemy of the People’ for the reasons we are here to discuss. I saw in this play, a chance to explore important issues related to so many of the disciplines we study here on this campus,” she said to the crowd.
The focus of the play was on power and belief. A man, well-acquainted with scientific research, tried to tell his town about a concern of pollution in the waters, and after trying to go through the local newspaper with no luck, he had no one on his side defending him.
His town berated him and dismissed his studies because they did not want to face change and the reality that they could be poisoning themselves by way of water consumption.
Some lines from the play were given to the audience to get them thinking about the play and how it relates to sharing ideas with people and press, “What has this got to do with science? Don’t you think it is a citizen’s duty to share new ideas with the public? The liberal, free and independent press will stand up and do its duty.”
Cogar touched on objectivity and finding the absolute truth in a modern push for bias and favoritism in her introductory statement.
“What we think we know can be very different from the truth,” she said.
Moser, History professor, found himself troubled by the ending of the play.
“I would have liked to have seen what happened next in the play. Where I was disappointed in the end was, ‘wait a minute, nothing is resolved.’ Had he gone to a different town and published from there, that’s where the change is going to happen,” Moser said. “He was subject to tyranny where he was— the good news is, it was a local tyranny. Go to another town and he could have been treated like a king.”
Schmeller found the script “explosive” and admitted to scribbling notes in the dark theater as she watched the performance.
“This product is faulty,” Schmeller said. “This play was a constant refresher. I felt like I was reading a textbook case study— it was everything we teach across the street in the college of business.”
While Weidenhamer has used this exact play by Miller in his classrooms for a number of years to inform students about the risk of lead in drinking water, which was discovered by a physician.
Rev. Vickie Taylor, director of Outreach Instructional Design at AU, attended the event and sat in the audience taking notes.
“There are two areas that really stood out to me. The first one is about the competing constituencies and how they each have their own responsibility: making money for the stockholders versus safety of people,” she said. “The whole concept of power and truth— who really controls truth? How do we decipher what the truth really is when we have so many competing voices talking to us? It’s important to become literate of the sources that are available to us.”
As the speakers all gave an insight of themes relating to their specific department, they all agreed on the importance of free speech and maintaining healthy balances between the fields.
When an issue arises that is important enough to change an entire city, the panel concluded that it should have been published. Most information from the play corresponds closely with topics arising in the media today, Weidnehamer brought up the Flint, Michigan crisis as an example.
Putting business, scientific theories and lessons from past experiences together brought in a crowd interested in diverse thoughts and opinions, but in the end, the members on the panel all agreed that it is better for citizens to stick together on issues like those in, “An Enemy of the People.”