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Top constitutional scholars to headline opening of UVU research center

Published: Saturday, Sept. 15 2012 4:37 p.m. MDT

OREM — Utah Valley University will celebrate Constitution Day on Monday with the grand opening of the Center for Constitutional Studies.

Monday's ribbon-cutting will kick off a week of events hosted by the center, beginning with a public Constitution Day program Monday evening. The program will include a keynote address by renowned author and historian David McCullough, whose books include "1776" and "John Adams."

On Wednesday, the center will host a panel on comparative constitutionalism, and on Thursday, George Washington University professor and writer Jonathan Turley will give a free address at 11 a.m. in the Grande Ballroom of the Sorensen Student Center.

"I do think this sets the bar and sends a signal of the quality you'll see coming out of this center," UVU President Matthew Holland said of the week's events. "We're looking forward to bringing the best and the brightest to comment on (constitutional) issues."

The Center for Constitutional Studies, which occupies a recently remodeled suite on the third floor of the UVU Library, is an academic institute and research center on constitutional issues and history, said Rick Griffin, the center's founding director. He said he has been working to open a constitutional center on campus for the 10 years he has been at UVU and support from Holland has played a large role in making it a reality.

"It's a great benefit to me to have President Holland involved," Griffin said. "I hope to yank him out of his day job and get him down here to lecture."

Griffin said next week's events are essentially the center's fall conference. The center's staff is working to put together a comparable spring event, but Griffin admits they've created big shoes to fill.

"We put the bar high to begin with on purpose," he said.

In creating the center, Griffin said he wanted to incorporate not just constitutional law, but also the history, design and politics of constitutional societies. In line with that goal, the center is filled with artwork and information demonstrating the historical link between the U.S. Constitution and ancient Greek and Roman society. Above the desk in Griffin's office hang portraits of John Jay, the first U.S. chief justice, William Blackstone, a historical English juror, and John Locke, an English philosopher whose writings inspired American founders like Thomas Jefferson.

"If you look at other centers out there, they tend to be all constitutional law," he said. "I think that this can be so much richer when we pull from other disciplines."

Looking ahead, Griffin said the center will provide academic resources for students as well as host speakers, conferences and events. In time he said he would like to see the center offer study abroad opportunities for students and contribute to a constitutional studies program at the school.

A constitutional studies minor has already been proposed, Griffin said, and faces a few more steps of review at UVU before going before the state Board of Regents.

"There's great potential at UVU," he said. "I think we have all the ingredients to put together a leading undergraduate program."

Skyler Johns, an undergraduate student who works as student coordinator for the center, described the Center for Constitutional Studies as an academic hub for anyone who wants to learn about the Constitution. He emphasized that the center is a nonpartisan research center, and not a club for political science students, where students working on academic research could find assistance and resources.

He also said the center plans to act as a venue where students can observe the goings-on of American government through video broadcasts and recordings of congressional hearings and coverage of landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

"I think this is going to be a great asset for students at UVU," Johns said.

Holland agreed, saying the center will expose students to a wide range of ideas and perspectives on government and politics, which he said are vital to citizenship and engagement.

"We're looking to bring the best and brightest to comment on these issues," he said. "We mean this to be a first-rate academic experience."

The ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held Monday in suite 305 of the UVU Library at 5 p.m. McCullough will offer brief remarks at the ceremony, prior to his keynote address during the Constitution Day program, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at the UCCU Center. The program will also include remarks by Holland and Griffin.

On Tuesday, the center will present an open house with guided tours between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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