New Center to Examine U.S. Democracy

Drs. Jesse Covington and Tom Knecht

Drs. Jesse Covington and Tom Knecht

Westmont’s new Center for American Democracy will help students understand the unique ideas, ideals, institutions and practices of democracy in the United States. The center begins launching programs in fall 2018 thanks to a generous gift from an anonymous couple with new ties to the college.

“We often read about fledgling democracies where entrenched tyrants use the mechanisms of democracy to get elected only to dismantle the practices of democracy to assert their tyrannical will,” says President Gayle D. Beebe. “A core element of American democracy is the importance of learning to live together with difference. That includes always welcoming immigrants into our country and respecting the rights and responsibilities of all citizens to live and work under the rule of law.”

“I am excited for the intentionality and focus the center will bring to students’ thinking about the ideas, institutions, laws and practices that sustain a free and ordered society in the United States,” says Jesse Covington, associate professor of political science. “I’m also excited for the great guest speakers that we anticipate bringing to campus.”

Students will read and discuss foundational documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Federalist Papers and other classic and contemporary texts.

“The American political environment is increasingly contentious and polarized,” says Tom Knecht, professor of political science. “Thoughtful deliberation is key to a healthy democracy, but, unfortunately, seems to be in short supply today. The center will be a place that emphasizes thoughtful deliberation about politics.”

Internships with local, state and federal government agencies, think tanks, and institutions committed to the common good will provide practical experiences for students. They will also pursue guided research projects with professors.

“One thing we are particularly excited about is expanding the research opportunities for our students,” Knecht says. “In the past, many of our students wanted to do a research project over the summer but didn’t have the resources to do so. The center now allows our best students to spend the summer working on their research projects or collaborating with their professors.”

“The center seeks to develop thoughtful and effective citizens who will enter public service, lead effectively, and model moral and ethical conduct and decision-making,” Beebe says.

“Contemporary political discourse and participation continue to show a need for more careful and well-informed thinking, rather than emotive, entertaining, or polarizing alternatives,” Covington says. “This center can help meet this need, drawing on the rich resources of politics, law, and theory in the United States, as well as the virtues of humility, curiosity, diligence, and care that characterize a Christian liberal arts education at Westmont.”

Political science professors Covington and Knecht will play key roles in leading and developing the new program.