Professor David Chanatry Hosts WCNY’s Ivory Tower


Professor David Chanatry gets “mic’d up” before recording “Ivory Tower.” Photo: Diana Sidorevich

Diana Sidorevich, Contributing Writer

Having a 20 year career at NBC as a writer and producer along with a second career as a professor of journalism, David Chanatry is a pillar of the Communication and Media faculty at Utica University. 

Added to his expertise, he recently co-produced a documentary called “Utica: The Last Refuge” and for the past seven years has hosted the show “Ivory Tower” in Syracuse.  

Students hear him mention his show among the stories sprinkled through his lessons but wonder, what does he do and what is the show about? 

The term ‘ivory tower’ refers to a metaphorical place of  “privileged seclusion or separation from the facts and practicalities of the real world.” The Oxford Dictionary uses the term “the ivory tower of academia” as an example. That’s exactly what the show is. 

“Ivory Tower” is a round-table discussion with usually four panelists about the latest hot topics in news from professors’ perspectives. I was able to sit in on the taping of the show on Friday morning before Spring Break. 

From where I was standing, a pair of glasses seemed to be a panelist requirement. That might have something to do with the panelists’ age, but in all fairness, that was Professor Chanatry’s comment.

As a host, Professor Chanatry’s role requires news-binging throughout the week. On Tuesdays, he isolates for news research, formulating a list of 10-12 topics that the panelists vote on and the final three are selected by Wednesday. Panelists spend the next two days researching the topics in depth.

The host fills a unique role. A host or moderator should not make their opinion known on topics that most people feel passionately about and should be able to neutrally play devil’s advocate for the opposing viewpoint. 

“It’s up to David to throw out stuff to make them think about the other side,” producer Douglas Moreau said. “If everybody is agreeing, that makes a terrible show.” 

“Ivory Tower” is not your regular news pundit program. It began in 2002 when former host David Rubin wanted to develop a show discussing everyday things happening in local and national news. His goal was for academics to express diverse viewpoints while remaining cordial and not interrupting one another. This is becoming a lost art in today’s heated discussions.

Chanatry said each scholar is a “well of expertise” in their respective field. The episode that I sat in on consisted of an impressive assortment of well articulated scholars. 

The panel included Chad Sparber, who holds a Ph.D. in Economics and is a professor at Colgate University; Nina Moore, also from Colgate, who holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and has written books on race and politics; retired Brigadier General Ty Seidule currently serving as a visiting professor of history at Hamilton College, who has also authored several books including his latest Robert E. Lee and Me; and Sarah Pralle holding a Ph.D. in Political Science currently serving as associate professor of Political Science at Syracuse University. 

“The depth of the program I like to think is significantly different from what you see on a regular news channel,” Chanatry said.

According to Moreau, panelists serve as volunteers, must be up to date and have time to do research on topics in order to talk “dynamically and wittingly” about them on Friday morning. He tries to choose professors from different schools for each episode to increase diverse thought. 

“There are perfectly good people who have different opinions than you but that doesn’t make them bad people,” Chanatry said. 

Panelists discussed the murders of American citizens in Mexico and whether the U.S. military should increase their involvement, ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) and if expanding the House of Representatives would be beneficial for the U.S. 

Students don’t often bother keeping up with current events and news since they usually require time to research. The topics discussed on “Ivory Tower” are, however, impactful and consequential. The 65 and over crowd has time to mind politics—they make up the majority of viewers for this highest-rated locally produced show at the PBS station. 

True to their profession, the panelists end each episode with a grading session, A’s and F’s. Each professor assigns an A and F to something that happened in the week. 

Pralle gave the federal government an “F” for ending the pandemic era policy that increased food assistance payments to people who are on the SNAP program. Moore gave an “A” to President Joe Biden’s 2024 budget that includes billions for childcare, early childhood education.

Ivory Tower gets an “A” from this student for the panelists ability to respectfully disagree and communicate conflicting viewpoints.