Louise Dolby

Cal Poly’s College of Liberal Arts will hold its first ever Constitution Day Thursday in the business rotunda (building 3, room 213) from 11 a.m. to noon.

A recent bill authored by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-West Virginia) requires colleges receiving federal funds to provide educational programs for the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, celebrated nationally on Sept. 17 of this year. Since Cal Poly was not in session, the event was scheduled for Thursday.

Constitution Day will include a discussion of the history of the Constitution and judicial review. Linda H. Halisky, interim dean for the college of Liberal Arts, will serve as mistress of ceremonies. The event will begin with music department lecturer Katherine Arthur singing “America the Beautiful.”

Speakers will include Ronald C. Detweiler, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, Ronald C. Den Otter, political science professor and Sandra Gardebring Ogren, vice president of university advancement.

“We looked at staff here who might be knowledgeable about the constitution, particularly (but not only) what it has to say about the judiciary, since the judiciary is the focus of much national and international attention these days as a result of the Supreme Court nominating process,” Halinsky said.

Ogren, who served on the Minnesota Court of Appeals from 1989 to 1991 and the Minnesota Supreme Court from 1991 to 1998, said the Constitution’s history and its role are largely misunderstood.

“While to some the Constitution may seem an old and irrelevant document, many critical issues in American society get decided in the courts, and ultimately the Constitution is the basis for resolving them,” she said.

Den Otter said it is important for citizens to know about judicial review, the topic all three speakers will be focusing on.

“Students should attend because at the very least, all citizens should be minimally informed about what the United States Supreme Court is actually doing when it exercises the power of judicial review and, for better or for worse, settles a political controversy,” he said.

Detweiler said the speakers will not spend their time just praising the document, but they will “spend some time thinking about the fundamentals, and that includes the strengths and weaknesses.”

He also said the Constitution is constantly changing, and a discussion will take place “focus on what it might be, rather than what it is.”

“I don’t have a lot of patience with those who say we can only look at the original version and the original intent because we just can’t know,” Detweiler said.

Halisky encouraged students to attend, at least to be reminded of what the document has done over time.

“I think it is important from time to time to remind ourselves of the real significance of this document – and of the process of its formation – since it has guided what, for the most part, at least, has been a noble experiment in human and humane governance,” she said.

Though he emphasized that the Constitution is not perfect by any means, Detweiler said it is still good to discuss it.

“We probably do underestimate how important the constitution is,” he said. “It’s the one bit of glue that holds Americans together.”

Constitution Day is sponsored by the Cal Poly President’s Office, Provost’s Office, and the College of Liberal Arts. It is free and open to the public.

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