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New minor looks at Constitution

Tori Roeck | Monday, January 30, 2012

Undergraduates will have the chance to delve deeper into the nuances of government when the new David Potenziani Program in Constitutional Studies, a part of the political science department, launches as a minor program this fall.

“For our undergraduates, we hope to offer a course of study that invites them to think deeply and broadly from a variety of perspectives and disciplines about the most fundamental questions of life and law,” Vincent Muñoz, a professor in the program, said.

Muñoz said some of these questions include, “What is the proper relationship between government and civil society, between law and moral principles?” and “What are the philosophical foundations of human rights and constitutional democracy?”

The minor has been in development for several years, but was proposed and accepted to the College of Arts and Letters this semester, Muñoz said. The minor will be open to all undergraduates, regardless of their college or career aspirations.

“We hope that the minor will be particularly useful to those students who might have a vocation to careers in politics, law and public policy, but we hope that we serve all students interested in fundamental questions of justice, citizenship and the common good,” he said.

Muñoz said the minor will be interdisciplinary in nature. Courses will come from the political science, philosophy, theology and history departments and even the law school, he said.

Students are required to take five courses from four different components to complete the minor, Muñoz said. These components are, “Constitutionalism: History and Philosophy,” “The American Founding and American Constitutional History,” “Constitutional Government and Public Policy” and “Comparative Constitutionalism and International Law.”

“These general categories will focus on the great political and constitutional debates in American and world history and on the underlying principles of constitutional government — for example, natural and civil rights, social contract theory, the market economy, voluntary associations, separation of powers, popular sovereignty and the rule of law,” Muñoz said.

Muñoz said the gateway course for the minor will be Constitutionalism, Law and Politics, which he taught for the first time last semester.

Sophomore Lizzie Helpling, who is considering the constitutional studies minor, took the course last semester and said it shaped her interest in the field.

“I think the class itself really helped me develop a deeper understanding of constitutional thought and interpretation, especially in the American tradition,” Helpling said.

In addition to the minor, Muñoz said the David Potenziani Program in Constitutional Studies will sponsor constitutional studies lectures.

For starters, the program is sponsoring a lecture from Professor Jeffrey Tulis of the University of Texas titled “The Possibility of Constitutional Statesmanship.” The lecture will take place Feb. 6 in DeBartolo Hall 131 at 4:30 p.m., he said.

“Once the minor begins, constitutional studies minors will be invited to meet with such visiting faculty members over lunch or dinner or perhaps at a faculty member’s house,” Muñoz said.