K-State Salina's Civic Luncheon Lecture Series

The Civic Luncheon Lecture Series at Kansas State University’s Salina campus is providing the community a much-needed opportunity to discuss public issues. Their upcoming discussion, “Hydraulic Fracturing in Kansas: The Process and Challenges,” is scheduled for Nov. 14.

The series began in the spring of 2013 with an Academic Excellence Grant given by the provost to a diverse group of K-State Salinans. Professors and other staff members in electric and computer engineering technology, sociology, psychology, business, English, even aviation all take part in the planning and discussion of the lectures. For now, the group structure is informal, with members taking the lead as the discussion topics fall under their expertise. Later, they plan to become a more formal committee. They applied for the grant because they saw a need within the community to discuss plans for their city in a structured and fair manner.

“Our goal was to start a civic luncheon lecture series about current issues,” said Greg Stephens, associate professor in the arts and sciences department and member of the committee. “There are community members who want to be a part of events.”

The first forum this academic year explored the Public Health Department of Salina and Saline County. “Exploring Models of Community Discussion: A Case Study of Salina and Saline County Health Department” was chosen because the city commission of Salina and county commission of Saline County could not agree on whether to relocate the department or repair the unstable roof. The health department was temporarily relocated, but some wanted the department’s building repaired and the offices back in their original place. Salina and Saline County had a joint cooperative agreement to manage the department. The residents felt a sense of pride and ownership in the department, which was one of the first to pass progressive smoking bans in eating establishments.

“People thought they would work it out, so they patiently waited. The community was silent, but then they started to ask questions like ‘are there models for community engagement and dialogue?’ There are a lot of great people here, so it’s quite doable to have a community that encourages public discussion,” said Stephens.

Facilitators from the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy (ICDD) helped design a discussion structure that allowed people from the community to hear their leaders speak directly about the case and how the process could have been different. They offered training for community members to engage more directly in important local issues.

Earlier topics such as gun control, data privacy and the Affordable Health Care Act drew larger crowds, filling the 150-person capacity conference room and with many standing. The participants are welcome to bring brown-bag lunches or purchase lunch in the cafeteria next door.

The lectures are held every second Thursday of the month, three times a semester, at noon in the College Center Conference Room. The last luncheon of the year will be held on December 5, the topic of which has not yet been released. Topics are chosen for civic merit. Local residents are encouraged to suggest topics. The lectures are viewable online at http://www.salina.k-state.edu/civicluncheon/past_lectures.html.