Study of Democracy EnergizedGAMBIER, Ohio (August 27, 2007) Kenyon has won a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to create the Center for the Study of American Democracy.
The $710,000 We the People Challenge grant announced recently will be matched by $2,130,000 in donations generated through the College's current $230 million capital campaign.
The Center for the Study of American Democracy will establish a wellspring of nonpartisan civic and political discourse; generate conferences, lectureships, and seminars; and trigger learning and research opportunities for faculty and students.
President S. Georgia Nugent said the new center is an "enduring commitment" by the College to build on the civic enthusiasm shown by Kenyon students who attracted national attention by waiting hours, often standing in the rain, to vote in the 2004 presidential election.
"I look forward to a vibrant center that will exemplify and nurture thoughtful, bi-partisan, civic discourse and engagement in our democratic process," Nugent said. "The magnitude of this grant speaks both to the soundness of the proposal we put forward and to great confidence in
Bruce Cole, National Endowment for the Humanities chairman, said the NEH believes the center will advance the goals of the We the People program, which include enhancing understanding of the institutions and ideals that make American democracy possible.
"Kenyon has a distinguished history of teaching and scholarship on the fundamental issues of American political theory and practice," Cole said.
The center will take shape in 2008 with the hiring of a director to an endowed faculty professorship. A post-doctoral fellow will also be hired to assist the director in program planning and to teach some courses. Provost Gregory Spaid will oversee hiring of the director, who will then be responsible to the provost. The provost will appoint and work with an advisory board of up to ten members representing diverse academic and public-affairs backgrounds. Kenyon faculty will be well-represented, Spaid said.
"This is a wonderful, new opportunity for us to give our students the experience of engaging in some of the most significant public policy issues of the day," Spaid said. "Beyond that, it engages us with the external world in a way that should be exciting to Kenyon."
Public programs will include a biennial conference at the College; a lecture series in non-conference years; and digital communication through a website, electronic publications, podcasts, and blogs.
The first conference is projected for the spring of 2011. Conferences will explore public-policy issues in the context of American liberal democracy and its founding principles, said Pamela Jensen, professor of political science.
Jensen, working with the Office of Development staff, helped prepare the grant application. She credited the vision of the president and provost and the nitty-gritty work of the development office staff for its success.
The conferences will be an opportunity to coolly dissect controversial issues in the liberal-arts context, apart from the obscuring heat of "shouting and partisanship," she said. "We will be getting at some of the deeper assumptions that underlie our policy considerations. This is likely to take us toward the founding documents, toward political history, toward some non-American examples, and even in some cases back toward … political philosophers."
She imagines a retreat that invites the shapers of public policy, including scholars, public officials, and journalists, to be investigative and thoughtful. "We might come up with some alternative ways of looking at things," Jensen said.
A diversity of opinion and perspective is critical, said Joseph Klesner, professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science. Immigration is one example of a conference topic, he said, and the discussion could start with the founders' principles and encompass current policy challenges such as border security and the labor market.
Informed and thoughtful discussion will guide students into a "high level of civic engagement," Klesner said. "This is going to be a great addition to the College, to the public debate here."
About 12 percent of grant applications are funded by the NEH. The Kenyon grant is among the largest awarded by the NEH in a group of 159 grants announced recently in
The center's offices will fill part of the O'Connor House, which will be built on College Park Street between Horwitz House and Seitz House. Construction is funded by a $350,000 gift from Roderick and Lisa O'Connor, both 1980 graduates, and should be completed in the spring of 2008.
The center is a contemporary echo of the