You are here: Home / News & Events / News & Events Archive

News & Events Archive

Voices of Democracy Launches New Website

Voices of Democracy logo

Voices of Democracy (VOD), the online journal and curriculum resource featuring great speeches and
debates in American history, has launched a new, more user-friendly website, including a new section
of educational materials for Grade 8-12 teachers. Now averaging more than 1500 visitors per day from
around the world, the site has been identified by EDSITEment ( as among
the best educational resources on the web, and it has been supported by grants from the National
Endowment for the Humanities and the National Communication Association. VOD invites contributions
both to its online journal and its growing collection of teachers’ resources. For more information,
including guidelines for contributors, visit:

Josh Lerner Wins Brown Democracy Medal

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy has selected Josh Lerner and the Participatory Budgeting Project as the inaugural recipient for the Laurence and Lynne Brown Democracy Medal. The medal celebrates the best practical innovation that is advancing democracy in the United States and around the globe. The Participatory Budgeting Project is a nonprofit organization that empowers community members to make informed decisions about public budgets. The project, starting in Brazil, now spans the globe. Josh's team has helped it become a reality in California,New York, and Illinois, with more experiments happening across the United States. “We are deeply honored to receive the Brown Democracy Medal, in recognition of our work to give thousands of people real power over real money,” said Josh Lerner, Executive Director of PBP. “In just a few years, we have shown how a small non-profit organization can bring together hundreds of partners to build a new model for local democracy.”

Speech & Debate Society Completes Week of Public Debates

Ayad Muhammad and Melinda Formola following
their victory at James Madison University.

The Penn State Speech & Debate Society traveled to both James Madison University and Clarion University for public debates last week. At JMU, the society participated in an international week debate on the topic, “Resolved: Local communities, on balance, have benefited from globalization.” Penn State joined Emory University on the negative and squared off against George Washington University and Davis & Elkins College. The Penn State debaters, Ayad Muhammad and Melinda Formola, delivered the closing speeches for the negative and argued  that globalization harmed the environment and economies of small communities around the globe. Following an audience discussion moderated a professor in political science at JMU, the audience vote came in and the negative team, led by Penn State, won by a razor thin five ballots.

At Clarion, the team participated in a friendly exchange between Pennsylvania colleges. They debated whether Division I football and basketball athletes should be paid. Clarion, a NCAA Division II school, defended the resolution while Penn State negated. The crowd was evenly split between the arguments on! both sides. Jordan Todd, the society’s president, found the topic refreshing and “a nice departure from the normal political discussions” usually accompanied in debates. He also welcomed building connections to other schools through debate. Jordan said, “This was a great opportunity to build relationships with other universities across the state, so we can continue to have these events in the future.” The Penn State Speech & Debate Society plans to continue this trend of promoting debate across Pennsylvania, including bringing the University of Pittsburgh to campus in April 2015.

Speech and Debate Society to Host Constitution Day Debate

The Penn State Speech & Debate Society is pleased to announce that they will be hosting a debate on Constitution Day, September 17, 2014. The topic will be “Resolved: A Privacy Amendment should be added to the Constitution” and will feature four members of the society. The event will take place from 2:30pm to 4:00pm in Foster Auditorium, Paterno Library. As with all of their public debates, speeches from the audience are welcome.

Due to the generosity of the Office of Undergraduate Education and Penn State University Libraries, they will be giving away free pocket Constitutions to everyone who attends the debate. To commemorate the day, the Pattee and Paterno Library will have a book exhibit of works pertaining to the Constitution, and the Office of Student Affairs and Penn State Law will be hosting a voter registration drive between 10:00am and 4:00pm in the HUB. The Society encourages everyone who plans to attend the debate to also take part in these other festivities.

This event is free and open to the public.

Speech and Debate Society to Host Constitution Day Debate

McCourtney Institute for Democracy Announces Fall Speaker Series

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy is excited to announce our first of many excellent speakers in our series on Media and Deliberation.

Thomas E. Patterson, the Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, will be giving a talk titled "Feeding the Fire: The Media's Role in Party Polarization" this Tuesday, September 9th at 4:30pm in the Foster Auditorium (102 Paterno Library) on the University Park campus. Thomas Patterson is the author of The Vanishing Voter: Public Involvement in an Age of Uncertainty, the award-winning Out of Order, and, most recently, Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism.

This event is free and open to the public.

Thomas E. Patterson (Harvard University)
“Feeding the Fire: The Media’s Role in Party Polarization”
Tuesday, September 9th at 4:30pm in the Foster Auditorium (102 Paterno Library)

Please see the attachment to learn more about our speakers scheduled for this semester.

In addition to his public lecture, Thomas Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard University, will be giving an informal roundtable talk on "The State of Political Communication Research" this Tuesday, Sept. 9th at 11:30am in 124 Sparks. The McCourtney Roundtable talks are organized primarily for interested faculty and graduate students.

Professor Walter Parker to Deliver Talk on Education and Democracy

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy is hosting Walter Parker, a professor of Education and Political Science at the University of Washington, for a roundtable discussion and lecture on the role democracy and deliberation play in education settings. Both events are scheduled for Friday, September 12, 2014.

"Democracy and deliberation in the K-12 classroom”

124 Sparks Building: 12:00pm - 1:00pm, Sept. 12, 2014

Bring your lunch to this roundtable and discuss the possibilities of deliberation in the K-12 classroom.

“Education for Democracy: Key Issues and Loads of Disagreement“

303 Rackley Building: 2:00pm - 3:00pm, Sept. 12, 2014

Who can legitimately decide the particulars of civic education in schools? In a theocracy, the clergy decides. In a military dictatorship, it’s the generals. But in a democracy there are many legitimate voices, each clamoring for curricular influence. Who gets to decide—parents? educators? citizens? students? Education for democracy is challenging from this perspective, not only because it aims to shape children into particular kinds of citizens, but because it encourages children to decide what kinds of citizens they want to be. Refreshments will be served.

The events are co-sponsored by the University Park Allocation Committee and Educational Policy Studies Student Association.

CDD Hosting Conference on Speech & Debate as Civic Education

“U.S congresswoman Barbara Jordan electrified audiences with her distinct oratory style,
a style she admitted was learned during her years on the Texas Southern University debate team.”
Ronald Goodwin, African Americans of Houston.

On March 5-7, 2015, a conference on Speech & Debate as Civic Education will be hosted by the Department of Communication Arts & Science and the Center for Democratic Deliberation at Penn State University. The conference will feature a keynote address by former debater and presidential speechwriter, Craig R. Smith, along with a luncheon address by another former debater and former dean of the School of Communication at Northwestern University, David Zarefsky.

The conference is centered on chronicling, theorizing, and illustrating the connections between debate and educating for citizenship in the past, present, and future. It will feature presentations from invited scholars and competitively selected papers that address all aspects of the relationship between curricular or co-curricular speech and debate and civic education.

For more information, please visit the conference website at:

CDD Announces 2014 Birkle Student Engagement Award Winners

2014 Birkle Award Winners Briana Adams (left), Patrick Boynton (center), 
Suzanne Zakaria (right), and CDD Affiliate Debra Hawhee
(Photo credit: Adam Haley)

Through the generosity of Gretchen A Birkle ('86), each year the Nancy and Joseph Birkle Student Engagement Award recognizes undergraduate and graduate students in the College of Liberal Arts who have made significant contributions to public deliberation and debate by “speaking out” about important political or social issues, or by promoting more informed or productive public deliberation on the Penn State campus, in the State College community, or in the nation and world beyond.

The 2014 Birkle Award Winners were announced at the 22nd Annual Kenneth Burke Lecture in Rhetoric.  The Center for Democratic Deliberation congratulates the recipients:

Briana Adams
Briana Adams is a sophomore majoring in Communication Arts and Sciences. She is being honored with this year’s Nancy and Joseph Birkle Student Engagement Award for creating the Collegiate Laws of Life Essay Contest, which asked Penn State students to “explore ethical values and intercultural issues, and their talent for expressing their views in writing.” According to Catherine Wanner, the Barry Director of the Paterno Fellows Program, who nominated Briana for the Birkle award, “The Essay Contest has empowered other students to think that they too can make a difference not only in their own college experience, but in the overall culture of student life at Penn State.” Briana organized a student committee, and together they wrote six provocative essay prompts to which submitters responded. In its inaugural year, the essay contest drew more than thirty entries. The three top winning essays and three honorable mentions are featured on the Penn State Liberal Arts Voices Website, along with a podcast about the contest. The Center for Democratic Deliberation is proud to honor Briana with the Birkle Award for organizing what her nominator has aptly described as a “superb example of a student spearheading a forum where peers are encouraged to be engaged citizens of Penn State and of the world.”

Patrick Boynton and Suzanne Zakaria
Patrick Boynton is a senior majoring in International Politics, and Suzanne Zakaria is a senior majoring in International Politics and Spanish. They are being honored with this year’s Nancy and Joseph Birkle Student Engagement Award for their leadership of State of State, both an organization and an event designed to evaluate, deliberate, and improve the state of the Penn State University community. Since proposing the idea for State of State a couple of years ago, Patrick and Suzanne have recruited a thirty-five student organizing committee, secured more than $40,000 in funding from all over campus, and planned—with the help of their organizing committee—the inaugural conference, which was held on Sunday, March 30, 2014. This conference drew more than 300 students, faculty, and community members, who learned about and deliberated Penn State issues such as the massive scale of THON, race relations on campus, funding higher education, etc. The event included a series of informative talks, interspersed with energetic small group discussions, which were led by student facilitators. According to their nominator Michael Berkman, Professor of Political Science, Patrick and Suzanne “designed the day to facilitate meaningful discussion and interaction… and they have created the infrastructure for the program to continue past their graduation.” The Center for Democratic Deliberation agrees with Dr. Berkman’s sentiments, and is pleased to honor Patrick and Suzanne with the Birkle Award.

Saas Wins 2014 Kenneth Burke Prize in Rhetoric

2014 Kenneth Burke Prize in Rhetoric winner William O. Saas accepts his award 
presented by CDD Affiliate Stephen H. Browne 
(Photo credit: Adam Haley)

The Center for Democratic Deliberation offers an annual Kenneth Burke Prize in Rhetoric, awarded to the best essay written by a graduate student in one of Penn State’s liberal arts disciplines on the subject of rhetoric in its many forms—as historical, critical, or theoretical discourse.

The CDD is pleased to announce the 2014 winner of the Kenneth Burke Prize in Rhetoric, William O. Saas.  Saas, a CDD Fellow and a doctoral student in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences, won the prize with his essay entitled “Money as Corporate Speech: Re-Reading Citizens United through Heterodox Money Theory."

Meira Levinson Delivers 22nd Annual Kenneth Burke Lecture in Rhetoric

On Wednesday, April 16, Dr. Meira Levinson, Associate Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, delivered the 22nd Annual Kenneth Burke Lecture in Rhetoric, entitled “Teaching as Moral Injury: The Ethics of Educational Injustice.”  Levinson, recently named a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow, is author of the award-winning book, No Citizen Left Behind. Her work on civic education draws on scholarship from many disciplines and eight years of teaching in Atlanta and Boston public schools. A national leader in civic education, she has served on the advisory boards of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, CIRCLE, Generation Citizen, the National Action Civics Collaborative, and the Civic and Moral Education Initiative at Harvard University.

A video recording of Levinson’s talk will be available for a year, on MediaSite Live.

Dr. Meira Levinson delivers the 2014 Kenneth Burke Lecture in Rhetoric
(Photo credit: Adam Haley)