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David Letterman returns to Ball State to converse with MSNBCGÇÖs Rachel Maddow

For more pictures from Letterman and Maddow's visit, check out the DN photo blog.


David Letterman returned to the stage of the John R. Emens Auditorium on Friday afternoon for a light-hearted talk with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that ranged from college issues to the status of politicians in the upcoming presidential election.

Letterman's introduction to his conversation with Maddow showed he's still connected with his Ball State roots, making jokes about Pizza King and his former home at Ball State.

"I lived in Whitcraft Hall for a couple years," Letterman said, receiving cheers from students across the auditorium. "Really, people? You live in Whitcraft Hall? OK, I'll speak slowly."

Letterman said his experiences as a student and as an adult have come full circle.

"I missed a lot of classes because I felt the need to hydrate. I always seemed to feel thirsty," he said. "And then here tonight, I am the reason you people are missing class."

But his conversation with Maddow took a serious tone, dealing with college campus topics including students getting pepper-sprayed at the University of California-Davis during an Occupy Wall Street protest and molestation allegations against a former football assistant coach at Penn State.

Maddow said she hasn't discussed the Penn State controversy on "The Rachel Maddow Show" because people in the country have had the same general reaction — shock and horror.

"This institution, for all accountability measures that it supposedly had for dealing with crime on campus and abuse situation, they couldn't deal with it internally as an institution," she said. "You can't trust a big institution, like say the Catholic Church, to deal with this internally. You can't trust a big institution like a college campus, whether or not it has a great football team, to deal with something like this.

"Apparently, we need criminal law to do it, and that is both shocking about those institutions, but [it also makes you] grateful that the criminal law works in a way that it can reach into these places and hold people accountable."


The appearance of a third chair on stage before the event was a mystery to the crowd, but Letterman asked President Jo Ann Gora to sit in on the conversation to give a university administrator's perspective.

When Letterman asked Gora if Penn State administrators reacted appropriately, she said their actions were delinquent and will haunt the university.

"Their names will be forever be linked with this issue, and it speaks of the culture of the institution," she said. "Athletics is just one small part of university life. It should not be the dominant culture of the university.

"People were willing to sacrifice human dignity and children's safety for the culture of football, and that's absurd."


Audience members were encouraged to submit questions via Twitter throughout the conversation.

One question directed toward Maddow asked if she thought Occupy Wall Street protesters "can get it together to elect politicians."

"...I don't think their goal is to elect politicians," she said. "I think their goal is to change political priorities in the country so that when people are competing to get elected, one of the questions they could ask is, ‘What are you going to do about economic inequality? What are you going to do about a political system and economic system that works so disproportionately for the people that have all the money and all the power?

"It's less about picking new people and more about picking new questions."

Maddow said no matter what side of the political spectrum people are on, radical protesters like tea partiers and Occupy members are necessary for change.

"I think people are feeling like, ‘You know, the problems we have are not just things we get interested in abstract ways, they're real problems that really need to be addressed this generation — we can't wait,'" she said.


Maddow said the country was due for an economic turnaround — and soon.

But Letterman said there is some humor in this political season, calling many of the presidential candidates pathetic and laughable.

"I think we are in a time that's funnier than we were prepared for," Maddow said.

The audience laughed to many of Maddow's references to political news, including the announcement that Donald Trump will moderate an upcoming Republican debate.

"Mitt Romney has hired a Sarah Palin speech writer," she said. "You guys keep thinking I'm setting up jokes. This is news."

Maddow said her ability and enjoyment to poke fun at political issues on her show is partly why she won't consider running for public office.

She was able to visit Ball State because of Letterman's involvement in the David Letterman Distinguished Professional Lecture and Workshop Series, but also because of his contributions to Ball State facilities.

Part of the reason Maddow was able to visit campus for the conversation was because the university had technical capabilities to film her nightly show.

"I'm actually able to do my show from here tonight, which is really cool. You guys have really good communications and TV facilities here," she said, pointing toward Letterman.


Maddow said she wanted the conversation to focus on what students wanted to talk about and found interesting.

"I've never had a conversation with Dave that is not interesting and surprising ... but I will say, in terms of this political season, we are in an inadvertently hilarious period," she said.

Freshman actuarial science major John Filip said Maddow and Letterman kept the conversation captivating.

"I think it was a great show aimed at college students, and the fact that we didn't have to pay a penny to see them was great," he said. "... I had never heard about [Maddow] before, but I think she does a really good job at making appropriate jokes without offending people so she keeps it light, and she has really, really good insight and ideas on different issues."

Maddow ended the conversation with advice to college students: don't prioritize your romantic life and take critical thinking classes such as history or philosophy.

"History and philosophy are underrated," she said. "... There are skills you learn by becoming academically skilled by doing historical work and reading and writing philosophy that will help you make arguments about everything from whether you should get your tires rotated to whether that person should marry you someday to whether or not you'll be able to get into the door of heaven."


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