Last Saturday, CSUN hosted a Constitution Day seminar to celebrate the signing of the United States Constitution. All schools that receive federal funding were required by law to hold events on Constitution Day. Thanks to the College of Extended Learning, which sponsored the event, CSUN prepared a professional seminar, complete with catered breakfast and a panel of professors from CSUN as speakers.
As good as the format was, however, the seminar was definitely lacking in content. The speakers themselves were excellent, providing polished presentations and delivering substantive speeches on important constitutional issues. What was missing was any diversity in views on the Constitution.
The panel of speakers was made up of two political science professors, Chris Shortell and Sylvia Snowiss, and one professor from the Journalism Department, Maureen Rubin.
Each chose an issue of contemporary importance to constitutional theory. Dr. Rubin spoke about the First Amendment, focusing on freedom of the press and religious freedom. Dr. Shortell talked about the war powers of the president and the responsibility of Congress and the people to protect civil liberties. Snowiss covered the current debate over abortion and gay rights.
All of these are important issues that effect our daily lives. They bear even greater weight with the nomination of judge John Roberts to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
A balanced debate about the powers of the Supreme Court and the differing philosophies of constitutional law that various judges bring to the bench would have been welcome. Even a straightforward presentation on the actual text of the Constitution would have been beneficial, given the lack of knowledge that many Americans, and students in particular, have of the Constitution.
However, participants of the seminar were subjected solely to liberal viewpoints. Rubin opened her presentation with a clip from the “Daily Show with John Stewart” and expressed her concern about the “religious right” and its assault on the First Amendment. Snowiss spoke about the “fundamental” rights of abortion and privacy, especially regarding gay marriage. Shortell, while refraining from many of the rhetorical flourishes enjoyed by his colleagues, was nevertheless hostile to many of the executive powers of the president in wartime.
This is not to say that the speakers were unreasonable or unprofessional. Yet their comments were made from a solely liberal viewpoint. The participants of the seminar would have been better served had there been at least one speaker who expressed an originalist view of the Constitution. The give and take that naturally accompanies such an exchange of diverse views is far more educational than a uniform recitation of commonly held beliefs.
It is not as if there are no professors who hold views contrary to the current liberal doctrine. The History Department alone contains some fine conservative professors who argue from an originalist viewpoint. There should have been no excuse for excluding dissenting voices from the seminar.
Since this is only the first Constitution Day to be held, there will be plenty of time to improve on the format. Hopefully, the organizers of next year’s event will include a more diverse set of viewpoints. After the question and answer session, where I had disagreed with some of the points made by the speakers, one of the staffers at the College of Extended Learning told me that it was “always nice to hear different points of view.”
Sean Paroski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org