Contemporary Issues Forum 2019

Contemporary Issues

World-renowned astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell to speak at Coe Contemporary Issues Forum

Following the discovery of the first radio pulsar in 1967, Dr. Jocelyn Bell Burnell was credited with one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century. However, she was not recognized alongside her co-author and graduate professor when they received the Nobel Prize in physics. Bell Burnell will speak at the 16th annual Coe College Contemporary Issues Forum at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29 in Sinclair Auditorium on the Coe College campus.

Bell Burnell has been breaking barriers in physics throughout her life. She developed an interest in astronomy when it was unconventional for a woman to study science. At the age of 24 as a graduate student at the University of Cambridge, Bell Burnell detected an anomaly in her radio telescope data — pulsars. This discovery led to the controversial receipt of the Nobel Prize by just her thesis supervisor, Dr. Anthony Hewish, and colleague Dr. Martin Ryle, without a share for Bell Burnell.
A pulsar is a tiny, rapidly spinning remnant of a more massive star. Pulsars, also known as neutron stars, are used as precise timers, aid in the research and location of gravitational waves and are often regarded as the universe’s gift to physics.
In 2018 Bell Burnell was awarded a $3 million Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics — one of the most prestigious awards in the physics community. “Professor Bell Burnell thoroughly deserves this recognition. Her curiosity, diligent observations and rigorous analysis revealed some of the most interesting and mysterious objects in the Universe,” Yuri Milner, one of the founders of the Breakthrough Prize, said. Bell Burnell donated her entire award to a charity in the United Kingdom whose mission is to support physics graduate students from underrepresented groups.
Over the course of 50 years, Bell Burnell has held multiple leadership positions in the physics community including president of the Royal Astronomical Society and first female president of the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. She is currently a visiting professor of astrophysics at the University of Oxford and chancellor of the University of Dundee. Bell Burnell was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1999 and promoted to Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2007.
The Coe College Contemporary Issues Forum is open to the public. Tickets may be purchased online at or by phone at 319.399.8600. Ticket prices are $10 for adults and $5 for non-Coe students and seniors.
Established by the late K. Raymond Clark '30, the Contemporary Issues Forum presents the views of distinguished leaders whose work has shaped and altered the course of world events. The forum has featured former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, former Polish President Lech Walesa, deep-sea oceanographer Robert Ballard, civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, "Doonesbury" cartoonist Garry Trudeau, ecology expert Jared Diamond, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts, celebrated author Sir Salman Rushdie, former Senate Majority Leader and Special Envoy George Mitchell, Pulitzer Prize-winning global health expert Laurie Garrett, legendary soccer player Abby Wambach, leading commentator on race Jelani Cobb and environmentalists and social entrepreneurs Yvon Chouinard and Craig Mathews.
Coe values its location and relationship with the Cedar Rapids community and looks forward to providing insightful contemporary forum issues. Established in 1851, Coe has a national reputation for academic excellence enhanced by a student-centered, highly supportive campus environment. Our success in offering superb academics and exciting co-curricular activities stems in large part from our location in a thriving urban setting that promotes student growth and success. As such, we welcome the community to participate in this event.

K. Raymond Clark
K. Raymond Clark '30

K. Raymond Clark: The man behind the event

The annual Contemporary Issues Forum would not be possible without the immense generosity of the late K. Raymond Clark ’30. As the single largest donor in Coe’s history, he gifted more than $35 million over the course of his life and through his estate. Many aspects of the college would not be what they are today without his selfless dedication to Coe and its students.
Clark graduated from Coe, earned a law degree at Columbia University, then moved to Chicago where he established his own legal practice. He amassed his wealth by practicing estate and tax law and investing wisely in real estate.

Clark’s practice was to purchase mansions and convert them to apartments. His most notable conversion includes 1340 N. State Parkway in Chicago’s Gold Coast. Following the mansion-to-apartment transformation, Hugh Hefner convinced Clark to sell this property, which ultimately became part of the original Playboy Mansion. Eventually, Hefner slept in what had once been Clark’s bedroom.

Clark authored several textbooks and was a consultant to a number of major U.S. corporations. Not much of an athlete at Coe, he developed an interest in tennis in his mid-50s, joining two Chicago clubs — a tennis and a racquet club. Clark devoted his early adulthood to work. He also took up skiing, frequently joining Kent Herron and Coe students in the month of January in Colorado.

Enjoying racquet sports himself, he believed Coe would benefit from a racquet facility. Clark worked in tandem with then Coe College President Dr. John Brown to bring his vision to life. Dr. Brown was able to persuade Clark to add an indoor track and weight rooms, as well as outdoor football and softball playing fields and seating. In 1989 the Clark Racquet Center was constructed and established what is now known as Coe’s east campus. The racquet center offered indoor and outdoor tennis and indoor squash and racquetball courts.

During the dedication ceremony, an enthusiastic audience enjoyed a match between tennis great Billie Jean King and her famed doubles partner Rosie Casals. This match was followed by a doubles match with King and Clark verses Casals and former Trustee Bob Gunn ’33. An endowment was established by Clark to maintain the racquet center and fields.

Dr. Brown enjoyed 23 years, from 1982-2005, developing a relationship, both personal and professional, with Clark and providing projects to Clark both for their intrinsic merit and to maintain Clark’s focus on Coe.

Clark’s second capital project was outlined in a proposal by Dr. Brown to create an alumni house. In 1993, construction began on Clark Alumni House. An attorney by trade and architect by hobby, Clark was involved in every aspect of the design and construction process. “He was a man who was strongly and intelligently involved. Very knowledgeable about architecture. If he saw something he didn’t like, he changed it,” said Dr. Brown.

The Clark Alumni House serves as a meeting place and hospitality center for Coe alumni, family, friends and visitors. The house includes four guest suites, a large living room, conference room and banquet room that opens onto a terrace and enclosed garden. Clark also created an endowment for the maintenance of the alumni house and grounds.

Clark’s third major contribution to Coe was the Clark Merit Awards. Clark provided an endowment that would pay full tuition for a year for selected students.

Dr. Brown and his wife, Nancy, traveled to Chicago to drive Clark to Coe to announce the creation of the Clark Merit Awards. There were toll roads along the way. At one of the tolls, a small red car went through in front of them. Before Dr. Brown could insert money, the lever raised. The driver of the small red car had paid their toll. The car had a bumper sticker that read “practice random acts of kindness.” Clark was amazed by this and continued to talk about it for years later.

“Ray practiced many acts of kindness. But not a single one of them was random,” said Dr. Brown.
Lastly Dr. Brown approached Clark about funding for a Contemporary Issues Forum — the idea that once a year, Coe would present the views of distinguished leaders whose work has shaped and altered the course of world events. The inaugural speaker was President George H.W. Bush in 2003. The Contemporary Issues Forum is funded by an endowment gift from Clark.

Throughout their years working together, Dr. Brown and Clark became friends — family actually. “As years went by, Ray mellowed and became easy to get along with and a pleasure to work with — a great friend,” said Dr. Brown. “I visited Ray at least twice a month in Chicago and spoke with him by phone once a week for 23 years.”

In recognition of his gifts of time, talent and treasure to the institution, the Coe College Board of Trustees honored Clark with an honorary doctorate in 1965. In 1966 Clark became a member of the Coe Board of Trustees. He received an Alumni Award of Merit from Coe in 1992.

In July 2005, at 95 years old, Clark passed away leaving virtually the entirety of his estate to Coe College. His many acts of kindness to Coe, though never random, will continue in perpetuity.

Find out how you can make a difference and leave a lasting impact on Coe students.

George H W Bush
George H.W. Bush


Remembering George H. W. Bush’s role in Contemporary Issues Forum

In 2003, Coe had the pleasure of hosting George H. W. Bush as the speaker for the first Contemporary Issues Forum. In honor of the 16th year of the event, and in memory of the former president, take this opportunity to read the article from the Spring 2003 Courier covering his memorable speech.

Bush regales Coe audience in inaugural Contemporary Issues Forum

By Steve Gravelle, freelance writer and reporter for the Cedar Rapids Gazette

“When I was president, I was fair game,” George Herbert Walker Bush told a near-capacity crowd at Sinclair Auditorium Feb. 27. Now, “if I don’t like your question, the heck with you. I’m not going to answer it.”

But the ex-president proved fair, and game, for dozens of questions during a freewheeling, informal evening as the inaugural speaker in the Coe College Contemporary Issues Forum, established by K. Raymond Clark ’30.

“I did not come to give a lecture,” he opened. “I always remember what happened to Socrates.”
The event drew hundreds of people – young and old, Republican and Democrat – who gave Bush a warm reception throughout his “lecture.” Present in the audience was more than 30 years’ worth of Iowa chief executives in the persons of Gov. Tom Vilsack and former governors Terry Branstad and Robert Ray.

At 78, Bush cracked jokes (mostly at his own expense, albeit in hyper-powered world circles) and recounted stories from life pre-, during and post-Oval Office.

Sketching his early life, Bush granted his youth was one of privilege.

“I can’t argue that point,” he said. “But where I was privileged was not in the material things, but in the values I learned from my mother and father.”

His grandfatherly advice to the nation (and the Coe community): help other people, listen to them and be fair and honest. And, get involved in politics.

“Get off the sidelines and get involved,” Bush said, specifically addressing Coe students. “Stay out of the public limelight, and try to do what everybody in this community of Cedar Rapids is doing, and that’s give back.”

That’s how Bush sees his political career.

“You have the satisfaction of feeling you’ve made a contribution, and you wake up and discover you’ve become a leader.”

With war preparations dominating the day’s news, Bush recalled Abraham Lincoln’s account of “being driven to his knees by the weight of his decision to send young men into harm’s way.”

“I know exactly what he was talking about: The need to have faith in something greater than yourself,” Bush said. He called exercising military force “the toughest decision a president can make. There’s nothing that can compare with the decision a president alone can make.”

The self-portrait of a president in retirement was one of a confident, if cheerfully henpecked, husband and proud father watching from history’s sidelines. The 41st president said he hasn’t much discussed the present crisis with the 43rd, his son, George W. Bush.

“There’s only one president at a time, and I try to stay out of his way,” the elder Bush said. “I don’t give him advice…all bets are off when it comes to Barbara, however."

In the extended question-and-answer session that followed Bush’s informal remarks, he waved off regrets about not directly confronting Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War.

“The coalition would have ultimately shattered” over an “on to Baghdad” strategy, Bush explained. “The United States would have been alone, occupying an Arab land. The war ended, we fulfilled our obligation (to liberate Kuwait) and we, for the most part, came home.”

Just one more day of continued fighting would have resulted in the deaths of 30,000 fleeing Iraqis, Bush said. “But we’re Americans,” he said. “We don’t measure the extent of our victory by the body count.”