From the President: Column by Thomas Becker


Column by Thomas M. Becker.

Saturday night in the Amphitheater, we will celebrate musical theater as the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, led by our own Stuart Chafetz, joins with the Chautauqua Opera Company’s Opera Apprentices and Studio Artists for a production they title, “Water Matters: Broadway — The Great Wet Way.” The music is from Gilbert and Sullivan, Kern and Hammerstein, Sondheim and Weidman, Lerner and Lowe — a “who’s who” of American musical theater. The extracts or the works’ themes relate to water. The vocal talents on display will be the eight Apprentice Artists who will carry the individual roles and the 18 Studio Artists supplying the choral work. All of those talented musicians were selected for this summer’s program by the opera company’s Artistic and General Director, Jay Lesenger, and his veteran team. Lesenger has a genuine gift for recognizing the combination of vocal talent and dramatic interpretation. He leads the company through an astonishingly rigorous eight-week schedule of rehearsals, recitals, opera productions, cabarets and performances such as Saturday night. It is the oldest continuous summer opera company in the country and a point of artistic pride for this community. Please join us for this joyful, beautiful and stylish concert in the Amphitheater.

When we first decided on the upcoming applied ethics theme on the ethics of cheating, we were informed by the startling case of teacher fraud in the Atlanta school system, wherein a significant number of teachers colluded in altering their students’ tests scores so as to claim a higher level of performance for both student and teacher. There was something atonal about the report — teachers cheating on tests. Erroll Davis came out of retirement to restore a moral authority to the system.

We spoke with Roger Goodell about the National Football League and the frequency with which his tenure as commissioner is involved with applying penalties for rule-breaking among players, coaches and teams. We asked Roger to help us include in that program a representative from the NCAA so we could follow the line of progression from college football to the professionals. Little did we know at the time just how dynamic those questions would become.

That unfolding sense of the dramatic was also alive in the program element we sought from Teresa Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia. We made the contact because UVA has the oldest continuous honor code in American higher education, and thus could properly frame the challenges of how we build a culture of honesty and integrity. I am sure many of you are aware that Sullivan has endured in recent months the action of the UVA board to remove her as president, followed closely in time by the action to rehire her with full confidence.

We knew the subject would require a session on personal relationships. We are thrilled with the combination of Julia Heiman of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University and the sagacious psychiatrist from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Paul McHugh. Their exchange should offer insight into the anthropological and evolving social morality of marriage and, indeed, all committed relationships.

What is fundamental to those areas of consideration is the structural and institutional characters of the ethical crises and how widely they are known and discussed. Yet, most of the arenas available to us for those discussions do not afford an opportunity for a depth of consideration of the ethical lessons.

Dan Ariely, from Duke University, will be the keynote speaker this week. His scholarship investigates the motivation and internal landscape of ethical decision making. His latest book is The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone — Especially Ourselves. Ariely has developed a method to demonstrate how we parse the lines of ethics in economic and partisan ways.

We knew, of course, the subject of the ethics of cheating is in a sense timeless in its relevance. We never anticipated the full-throated exposition of those questions throughout the daily news.

At 4 p.m. Monday in Smith Wilkes Hall, Andrew Krivak will read from his Chautauqua Prize-winning novel, The Sojourn. The work begins in coal country of the United States and moves to Eastern Europe before and during World War I. It is a work of ambitious scope, careful historic and cultural detail, and epic struggle — a great piece of storytelling.

Welcome to Week Seven of the Chautauqua season. Welcome to a community immersed in the examination of the narrative of our lives. Welcome to the exploration of the best in human values and the enrichment of life. Welcome to the celebration of lifelong learning.