The topics of freedom of expression and tolerance, especially in today’s polarized America, will be a focus of student-faculty research at the now-renamed Menard Center for Constitutional Studies on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus.
The center, which was created in 2016, will use $3 million in funding from the John Menard family to allow faculty and students to further explore interpretation of the U.S. Constitution by the U.S. Supreme Court, allowing students to learn about substantive constitutional rights by doing qualitative research, says Dr. Eric Kasper, a UW-Eau Claire political science professor and director of the center.
“Many would benefit from gaining a fuller comprehension of what the U.S. Constitution requires and protects in this regard, and universities certainly have an educational function to fulfill in furthering this understanding,” Kasper says.
Kasper says the nonpartisan center that is housed in UW-Eau Claire’s political science department can use its educational, research and programmatic functions to promote better understanding of all constitutional rights “as well as the roles they can play in improving the state of American politics.”
Student research could include the study of political philosophies and the historical origins of the freedoms the Constitution safeguards, Kasper says. UW-Eau Claire students recently did research with center-affiliated faculty examining the First Amendment’s protection of the freedom of speech for students at public universities and the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection of the right to equality.
In addition to research, the funding will provide two additional tenure-track political science faculty and bring in speakers on constitutional topics.
The Menard gift also will allow for a collaboration between the center and UW-Eau Claire’s Political Research Institute to establish a survey design and implementation center, says Dr. Geoff Peterson, professor and chair of the political science department.
“Faculty, students and members of the community will have the opportunity to use the data we generate, as well as include items of interest of their own on our existing surveys,” Peterson says. “This will allow both faculty and students to work with and gather original data on public opinion in the region and nationally.”
The collaborative effort will produce the Civil Liberties Scorecard that will measure Americans’ knowledge of their individual rights protected by law.
“The Civil Liberties Scorecard will be the first of its kind in the nation,” Peterson says. “Assessing what Americans know, and don’t know, about civil liberties will provide invaluable insights for political leaders, educators, scholars and anyone interested in civil liberties in general.”
Students will have the opportunity to develop survey design and data analysis skills. The scorecard will undergo constant revision, Peterson says, to ensure the questions measure the proper topics.
The scorecard will be able to provide a long-term set of data that will allow the center to see the changes in people’s knowledge over time.
“Given the uniqueness of this project, we firmly believe that the CLS and the other survey work that will be done through the survey center will bring UW-Eau Claire both regional and national attention,” Peterson says.