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Mellon Foundation: Democracy, Citizenship and Constitutionalism
December 19, 2006, Volume 53, No. 16

Rogers Smith

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has approved a grant of  $2.5 million to create a new University of Pennsylvania interdisciplinary program on democracy, citizenship and constitutionalism for approximately 15 years.

The Penn Program on Democracy, Citizenship and Constitutionalism will begin in the fall of 2007.  An interdisciplinary project group, chaired by Dr. Rogers Smith, the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science, will plan and coordinate the annual events.  Dr. Smith has written extensively on American citizenship, U.S. constitutionalism and democratic theory.  The project group will include Penn scholars in history, philosophy and other disciplines as well as experts in media and public opinion from the Annenberg School for Communication and legal scholars from the Law School. 

Each year the project group will select a theme that will give direction to the program’s invited speakers, fellows, seminars and other activities.  Possible themes for exploration include citizenship and ethnocultural roles, controversies over civic education, electoral systems and democratic representation, and citizen power and judicial power.  

“We thank and applaud the Mellon Foundation for funding an important new program that will shed light on the nature of citizenship in our world,” President Amy Gutmann said. “Democracy, Citizenship, and Constitutionalism is ideally suited to build on Penn’s interdisciplinary strengths in illuminating the role of citizens and the challenges facing constitutional democracies around the world.”

SAS Dean Rebecca Bushnell noted that democracy and constitutionalism is one of the high-priority multidisciplinary initiatives that the School of Arts and Sciences has taken up.  “Rogers Smith is exceptionally well qualified to bring this new initiative to fruition,” she said.  “Our faculty is strongly positioned with the expertise and collaborative skill to engage the changing political world through this program.  We expect that scholarship emanating from it will shed much-needed light on efforts to advance democracy, citizenship and constitutionalism around the world today.”

Dr. Smith cited the great import of the issues, the resources of Philadelphia and the University’s scholarly strengths as the driving force behind Penn’s embrace of teaching and research on democracy and constitutionalism. “We call the members of constitutional democracies self-governing ‘citizens,’” he stated, “but what does that citizenship really mean and what should it mean in people’s lives?  That’s what the program will explore.”

The heart of the program will be a monthly seminar series, which will be attended by faculty and graduate students from Penn and area colleges and universities. The program will also sponsor a year-end conference. Discussions are underway to establish a University of Pennsylvania Press Series on Democracy, Citizenship and Constitutionalism, which will be edited by Dr. Smith. The series would include volumes compiled from papers discussed at the seminars and annual conferences as well as invited essays and other pertinent scholarly works. The program will partner with the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to host speakers and conferences, and sponsor scholarship focused on constitutional topics.

“We look forward to partnering with Penn on this exciting initiative to give it a vital public dimension,” said Joseph Torsella, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center.  “As an institution dedicated to involving ordinary citizens in civic conversations, we want to help the program reach the broadest possible audience.”

The funding for the Program on Democracy, Citizenship and Constitutionalism will also support a postdoctoral fellow, three graduate fellows and 10 undergraduates along with their faculty mentors. Each year, a postdoctoral fellow undertaking substantial scholarship in the area of the program’s theme will be in residence and teach a freshman seminar in addition to conducting research. The graduate fellows will assist in various administrative aspects of the program and also convene a graduate student workshop for area students and faculty. In keeping with Penn’s emphasis on undergraduate research, the program will also include research grants to undergraduates.  These students would be convened each month by the program director and the postdoctoral fellow for a three-hour symposium to present and discuss research in progress.

Almanac - December 19, 2006, Volume 53, No. 16