The need for Constitutional Studies

On the heels of the newly established Center for Constitutional Studies, located on the third floor of the university library, Director Rick A. Griffin and other faculty of the History & Political Science Department want to see increased opportunity for students to learn about the nation’s charter by offering new curriculum modifications and possibly new elective courses.

“Constitutional studies are of paramount interest and value as the country and the global community continues to grapple with political and economic challenges related to our constitutional order,” President Holland said in a September 2011 press release.

Constitutional studies entail instruction courses on the origins, principles and historical facts that comprise the foundation of the United States Constitution, which have been America’s political blueprint and fundamental law since 1787.

Dr. Griffin, who teaches several courses on constitutionalism at Utah Valley University, considers it “incredibly important that students understand” the document and believes they will benefit from the knowledge.

“Constitutional studies involves issues at the intersection of political theory, government, law, religion, history. The Constitution affects their lives whether they know it or not,” said Griffin. “As members of our republic, we have to know the Constitution. How are we going to promote public policy that is consistent with our constitutional principles if we don’t understand them?”

Griffin points out that elected officials take an oath to uphold the Constitution, and if the citizenry lacks understanding of the Constitution, it is difficult to keep leaders accountable to govern by it.

Other faculty share like-minded sentiments.

“Right now UVU requires three science classes, but students only have to take one civic course.” said John Macfarlane, academic adviser for the History & Political Science Department. “I would like to see one of those science classes dropped and have U.S. Constitutional Studies take its place.”

MacFarlane believes there would be a positive outcome leading to more student “civic engagement and the desire to contribute” to the community.

Dr. Ian Wilson, Vice President of Academic Affairs, thinks the new direction “would be very helpful, we ought to know something about our Constitution.”

Wilson dismisses any possible negative effects to such a change and mentions that since the Center for Constitutional Studies was created, “the community has been very excited about it.”

Any changes made to general education courses, whether core or elective, must go through the General Education Committee, chaired by Kathy Andrist, who was appointed by the vice president of academic affairs.

The committee comprises 22 faculty representatives from every department and members who handle other academic issues. The process involves submitting a form that contains information on the course and then presenting the proposal to the committee.

After the presentation, discussion and questioning would follow and “depending on the information, the committee may take some time to study,” said Andrist, “before a decision is made.”

David Connelly, chair of History & Political Science Department, suspects some opposition on campus “because many interpret the Constitution differently.”

Connelly further explains this could create competition between departments, igniting a battle for these credit hours. Connelly suggests, and Griffin agrees, an easier approach through slightly modifying the course curriculum.

“We should take the American Heritage requirement and change it to an introduction to the Constitution,” Connelly said. “Keep the class name but have more of a focus on the Constitution.”

2 Responses to "The need for Constitutional Studies"

  1. Danny Morris   December 4, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    Completely agree! How do we keep a check on our representatives if we don’t understand the Constitution ourselves? The reason why there are those opposed to the emphasis because it brings to light just how far away our nation has been moving away from this document, built to withstand the test of time and protect against the tyranny of an oppressive government. Well done Brandon.

    Reply
  2. Phoenix Roberts   December 4, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    There is always considerable discussion (especially in these politically charged days) about how to teach the Constitution. I have always thought the answer very simple and obvious. Teach from the perspective of the Founders.
    They were men who wrote extensively about themselves and their times. We know them and we know they put those words on that paper for specific reasons. What political forces drove them to abandon the”perpetual union” of the Confederacy after less than a decade? Why did they alter so much?
    Those are the kinds of questions that should motivate us to look at politics of the 21st Century and see if we aren’t facing some of the same questions.

    Reply

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