Saturday, June 26, 2004

Getting It Right On The Christian Right: WC Professor's New Book Separates Fact From Fiction In School Board Politics

Chestertown, MD, June 25, 2004 — Is the Christian Right taking over America's public schools? Melissa Deckman, assistant professor of political science at Washington College in Chestertown, MD, says there is more media hype than truth in the supposed threat posed by Christian Right candidates to America's public schools. Her new book, School Board Battles: The Christian Right in Local Politics, released this spring by Georgetown University Press, examines the often discussed but superficially understood cultural and political war taking place in school districts nationwide where secularity and religion clash on issues such as evolution, multiculturalism, censorship and sexual mores.

School Board Battles asks important questions: Why do conservative Christians run for school boards? How much influence has the Christian Right actually had on school boards? How do conservative Christians govern? Where newspapers, pundits and commentators often paint pictures of irresolvable Right-Left dichotomies and overly aggressive political strategies, Deckman—through interviews, surveys and in-depth studies of actual elections—sees a more complex picture emerging, with more similarities between the conservative candidates and their more secular counterparts than might be expected.

“I wrote this book to determine, in part, if the Christian Right was ‘taking over' local school boards as part of a coordinated, grassroots strategy as many in their own ranks and in the ranks of their ideological opponents claimed,” says Deckman. “I found this not to be the case after I conducted a national survey of school board candidates in 1998, not long after the height of Christian Right power in U.S. politics. Not only were Christian Right candidates no more likely to win or lose than other candidates, ties between local candidates and organizations such as the Christian Coalition were weak, at best.

“As an empirical examination of political activity, I believe my book has important implications in terms of bringing truth to discourse,” she adds. “My findings challenge the media hype that the Christian Right was destined to infiltrate the public schools through school board governance. Instead, the voices of conservative Christian candidates—sometimes successfully, sometimes not-—can now be heard along with the voices of moderate and liberal candidates running for school board, which, at its heart, is the hallmark of our American democracy.”

A native Marylander, Deckman graduated from St. Mary's College of Maryland in 1993 and received her Ph.D. in Political Science from American University in 1999. She has taught at Washington College since 2000. In addition to broader interests in American politics, Deckman specializes in the areas of religion and politics, state and local politics, and women and politics. She is also engaged in an on-going research project about the political behavior of women clergy. She has published numerous academic articles in journals such as Social Science Quarterly, Public Administration Review, Review of Religious Research, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly and Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Poetic Premiere: WC's Erin Murphy Releases New Collection Of Verse; Garners Poetry Prize

Chestertown, MD, June 24, 2004 — Erin Murphy, an instructor of creative writing and literature at Washington College and first-place winner of the 2003 National Writers Union Poetry Award, has released her first collection of poetry, Science of Desire, published this June by Word Press.

Murphy will debut her poems at the College with a reading and book-signing on Thursday, September 23, at 4:30 p.m. in the Sophie Kerr Room of the Miller Library. The event is free and the public is invited to attend.

“It's the mixture of verbal sensuousness and quick intelligence that appeals most strongly to me in these vivid poems,” said award-winning poet Eamon Grennan of Murphy's poetic style. “There's something intrepid, honest, insistent in her ability to negotiate at speed between facts and feelings. Anchored often in family, her imagination can float out on currents of edgy, idiosyncratic, individual revelation. Alert to the language itself, she is always physically mindful of its meanings, its play of possibilities. Behind the wry humor, there is a decent, sympathetic love for the ordinary stuff of the world, for how ‘apples [are] polished like memories.'”

Murphy, a 1990 graduate of Washington College, received her MFA in Poetry from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her poems have appeared in The Georgia Review,Field, Nimrod, The Paterson Literary Review, Literal Latte and Kalliope, and her awards include a Pushcart Prize nomination and a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award. Murphy's second collection of poetry, Too Much of This World, has garnered the Anthony Piccione Poetry Prize and will be published by Mammoth Books. Publication date will be announced.

Science of Desire is available online through, Barnes and Noble, and at theWashington College Bookstore. Samples of her poetry can be found online by visiting Word Press.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Governor Proclaims June 23 John Toll Day

Chestertown, MD, June 23, 2004 — At a gala tribute held June 22 at the Maryland Historical Society, Governor Robert Ehrlich proclaimed today, Wednesday, June 23, 2004, as John S. Toll Day throughout the State of Maryland in honor of Washington College's 25th president and former Chancellor of the University of Maryland System whose career spans 60 years of service to higher education.

“Thank you, Governor, for that kind gesture,” said Dr. Toll. “I hope all celebrants will spend their John Toll Day doing something that they love to do, something that will benefit others, something that will help young people realize the transformative power of education.”

College supporters, staff and friends gathered to celebrate the man who has done so much to transform Maryland's oldest institution of higher education into one of the nation's premier colleges of liberal arts and sciences. In addition, the event raised $500,000 for the new Science Center, which—as announced last night—will be named in honor of Dr. Toll, who concludes his presidency on June 30.

With more than 180 in attendance, the tribute also attracted Maryland leaders in politics and education, including U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes, President of the Senate Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, Dr. Brit Kirwan, Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, and Freeman Hrabowski, III, President of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, who acted as Master of Ceremonies.

“As I begin a new chapter in my life, I will draw inspiration from the lessons that I have learned during my 60 years as a college student,” Dr Toll said to those gathered. “It has been a delight and privilege to serve alongside you in this wonderful adventure.”

Governor's Declaration

Whereas, John Toll has demonstrated outstanding leadership and vision during a career in higher education that has spanned six decades, always exhibiting astute practical sensibilities and genuine warmth in relating to various constituencies; and

Whereas, he has proven equally adept at building research universities, particularly the University of Maryland System, and at leading to great distinction Washington College, a national liberal arts college on Maryland's Eastern Shore; and

Whereas, this eminent scientist has made significant and lasting contributions to the field of elementary particle physics and to science education throughout the nation; and

Whereas, John Toll is retiring his presidency of Washington College at the close of this academic year, and is being celebrated at a gala tribute dinner in Baltimore this day,

Therefore, I do hereby formally declare June 23, 2004, to be John S. Toll Day.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Twenty-One Muslim Students To Participate In Second Annual American Studies Institute At Washington College

Program Co-Sponsored by U.S. State Department

Chestertown, MD, June 18, 2004— This summer, Washington College will host 21 Muslim students from South Asia for its second American Studies Institute (ASI), an ambitious cultural exchange and educational program co-sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the College's C. V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.

ASI is the first government-funded program to invite undergraduate college students exclusively from Islamic backgrounds to study American culture and history up-close and in-depth. A grant of $250,000 from the State Department covers 90 percent of the cost of the program. The 2004 Institute, addressing the theme “American Democracy: The Great Experiment,” will run from June 20 to July 28 in Chestertown, Maryland.

The 21 participants—representing student leaders from predominantly Islamic universities in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh—were selected from hundreds of applications by the respective U.S. Embassies in Islamabad, New Delhi and Dhaka.

The program's unique setting in Chestertown, a small colonial town on the rural Eastern Shore of Maryland, will give the students a chance to immerse themselves in American culture. They will meet everyone from the town mayor to the Indian family that runs the local Dunkin' Donuts, visit a minor-league baseball game, a Fourth of July parade and a rodeo, all the while studying the works of the seminal figures of American democracy and attending lectures by speakers such as Taylor Branch, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil Rights historian.

“ASI will offer traditional instruction in the history of the United States and our democracy, but it will break important new ground, as well,” said Ted Widmer, Director of the C. V. Starr Center and a former Special Assistant to President Clinton and Director of Speechwriting at the National Security Council.

“While ASI brings together scholars to tell the story of American democracy, this year's program will also explore the connecting strands that tie American history to South Asia and other Islamic regions.”

One of the program's guest lecturers, Widmer added, will be Robert Allison, a preeminent authority on the early relationship between the United States and Islam. In addition, students will meet with several current and former government officials, from both parties, who will share their views on current events at home and abroad.

Through a series of lectures by Washington College faculty and distinguished visitors, the five-week Institute will work forward chronologically to introduce students to the origins, realities, possibilities and challenges of American democracy at home and abroad.

“There has never been a better time to offer this kind of educational experience to students from the Islamic world,” Widmer added.

The first week, “Birthrights,” explores the creation of the United States and the political rights and ideals that also came into existence at its founding. Week Two, “Civil Rights,” focuses on ways that Americans have struggled to realize those ideals and investigates some of the problems that the Constitution failed to resolve, particularly the extension of voting and other rights to African-Americans, the struggle for women's rights, and ongoing efforts to define human rights around the world. Week Three, “Chestertown, U.S.A.,” examines the way democracy functions every day for citizens in a small Maryland county seat, through its government, courts, businesses and volunteer organizations. Week Four, “America and the World,” addresses the way that U.S. foreign policy is created and the image of the United States abroad, and Week Five, “The United States and South Asia,” discusses specific issues in the relationships between our four countries, welcoming the students' input and unique perspectives.

In addition to classroom experience, the students will participate in a range of extracurricular activities, including field trips to Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York City. By interacting with a wide variety of American citizens, these future leaders will return to their countries with a greater understanding of American history, culture and the democratic ideals that guide them.

“The Institute will maintain a healthy informality,” said Widmer. “Nonetheless, the Institute's academic standards will be high, and tackling the difficult issues raised by the coursework will be an intellectual adventure for the students and faculty alike. All in all, this is an exciting opportunity to use American history—and the teaching of American history—to make a difference in the world.”

For further information about the 2004 American Studies Institute, contact Kees de Mooy, Program Manager for the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, at 410-810-7156, or visit ASI online:

The C. V. Starr Center is a forum for new scholarship about American history. Drawing on the special historical strengths of Washington College, the Center explores the early republic, the rise of democracy, and the manifold ways in which the founding era continues to shape the fabric of American culture. The Center is interdisciplinary, encouraging the study of traditional history alongside new approaches, and seeking to bridge the divide between the academic world and the public at large.