Profs head new center to boost students’ civic literacy

By Blake Rachowin

Political science professor Nathan Tarcov and several University colleagues recently announced plans to develop the Center for Study of the Principles of the American Founding, with primary funding coming from the socially conservative Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).

The Center will aim to improve civic literacy and educate students on American citizenship by putting on lectures and providing funding for student projects.

The Center’s founders include Tarcov, Law School professor Dennis Hutchinson, Social Thought professor Ralph Lerner, and political science professors John McCormick, Gerald Rosenberg, and Jean Elshtain.

“The serious scholarly study of the principles of the American founding is essential to the theoretical understanding of United States government and society as well as to the practical engagement of American citizens,” Tarcov said in a press release. “Unfortunately, such study has of late been too often neglected. Our Center offers a corrective to this general trend.”

The announcement about the Center for Study of the Principles of the American Founding followed the ISI’s release of its 2005 survey of civic knowledge, in which the University of Chicago placed 37th out of 50 schools.

“Since students at the U of C often fulfill their history [civilization] requirements abroad, they certainly don’t learn about American history and civilization,” said Michael Ratliff, a senior vice president of the Miller Center at ISI, in a phone interview. “Often there seems to be little attention placed on American values in higher education.”

Tarcov sought funding from the ISI several months ago to begin developing the Center.

U of C Social Thought Ph.D. student Adam Kissel, who also serves as deputy director of the Miller Center, said Tarcov submitted several proposals, and the ISI hopes to fund all of them eventually.

Funding for the project came primarily from the Miller Center, named after Jack Miller, who gave nearly $15 million to the U of C Hospitals for medical research.

“The gift [for the Center] was a modest sum,” Ratliff said. “It’s far less than the $15 million gift Miller made earlier, and was more of a start-up donation.”

Ratliff would not disclose the amount that Tarcov received.

“With centers at universities such as U Chicago, we hope that we will see a deepening of scholarship about the American founding that will spread to other universities,” he said. “The Center should also benefit international students, who can bring American democratic ideals back to their home countries.”