Washington Insider to Run Democracy CenterGAMBIER, Ohio (July 22, 2008) Kenyon has selected John C. Fortier, research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, as the first director of the nascent Center for the Study of American Democracy.
Fortier, forty-one, of Arlington, Virginia, is a political scientist with a keen interest in the principles of American democracy as applied to the workings of government. At the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., Fortier has directed joint projects on institutional issues of American democracy with the Brookings Institution, including his role as executive director of the Continuity of Government Commission.
"I have a background in the study of the origins and fundamental principles of American democracy, in the study of the Founding and Constitutional law," Fortier said. "I have also spent a lot of time looking at contemporary debates on a number of issues. My goal for the Center is marrying the two. The things that the Founders cared about play into the debates about how we vote and how we structure our institutions today."
Fortier has directed studies on the governing skills of presidential candidates, ways to smooth the transition from campaign to White House, and election reform.
Through conferences, lectureships and seminars, the Center for the Study of American Democracy will stimulate nonpartisan civic and political discourse, with teaching and research opportunities for faculty and students. The presidential election season sets the stage for the Center's first events this fall. The Center was established through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2007. The $710,000 We the People Challenge grant is being matched by $2.1 million in donations generated by the College's current $230 million capital campaign.
President S. Georgia Nugent said Fortier complements a strong Department of Political Science. "We are extremely pleased that John Fortier will be coming to Kenyon as the inaugural director of the Center for the Study of American Democracy," Nugent said. "He brings to the role both a wonderful breadth of experience in Washington and a real excitement about what the Center can mean for Kenyon. I know that many members of the faculty look forward to welcoming him as a member of the Kenyon community and working with him to launch the Center. "
The selection was applauded by others in Washington and in Gambier.
Thomas E. Mann, the W. Averell Harriman Chair and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Fortier brings intellectual rigor to the study of American Constitutionalism. "Add to that his years of experience in Washington, of being a serious analyst and participant in the debates having to do with the operation of our electoral and governance systems," Mann said. "He's thoughtful, experienced and well-connected. My guess is he will bring to the campus a number of thoughtful politicians, policy specialists and journalists who will enrich the debate on the campus about the American Constitutional system. It's a terrific choice."
Pamela Jensen, professor of political science and chair of the faculty, helped shape the grant request for creation of the Center and was part of the director search committee. "John has a background in political science that suits him well to work with our students," Jensen said. "His work in recent years has been on joint projects bearing on elections policy and elections administration. In turn, his immediate work environment has put him in touch with policy makers, the media, political actors, and academics of the very first rank and from all sides of the issues. We are very enthusiastic about the content of the programming he will bring to campus, as well as about his readiness to administer the Center itself. "
Joseph L. Klesner, professor of political science, department chair, and search committee member, said Fortier's understanding of political philosophy is enhanced by experience in Washington. Fortier will also draw on Ohio public-policy experts, public officials, and regional think tanks to examine Ohio issues and the state's role in presidential elections. "We wanted somebody with a background of political theory to reflect on major public policy issues," Klesner said. "He's going to be more than able to accomplish those things. We're quite excited about it."
Fortier will divide his time between Gambier and Washington. He will teach a course in political science, beginning in the second semester of the 2008-09 academic year. The opportunity to teach and mentor students is appealing to Fortier, who will also promote student internships in Washington. "We have an election coming up," Fortier said. "In many ways, Ohio is the center of American politics. We will attract people to come here and talk about those things."
Fortier has testified before Congress on election issues. He has appeared frequently as a news-media commentator. He has been a lecturer for the U.S. Department of State and presented research at many conferences. Fortier has also contributed to and edited a number of books and is the author of "Absentee and Early Voting: Trends, Promises, and Perils." He is a columnist for The Politico in Washington and a former columnist for The Hill in Washington. He is a former instructor at the University of Delaware, teaching fellow at Harvard University and teaching assistant at Boston College. He earned a bachelor's degree at Georgetown University and a doctorate in political science at Boston College.