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Thursday, September 2, 2004

PACE Co-Founders Earn 2004 Elkins Professorship Award

SALISBURY, MD---Every election year brings with it the usual hand wringing over the woeful voting record of our young people and their apparent apathy about anything political. Two Salisbury University faculty, Drs. Harry Basehart and Francis Kane, decided to do something about it. They believed that, if students got hands-on experiences with the problems of local government, they would understand why politics is important and why working on behalf of the community can be immensely rewarding. From that hope has sprung SU’s Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement (PACE).

For their efforts over these past five years, the professors recently received one of the University System of Maryland’s highest honors: the Wilson H. Elkins Professorship. Only one other SU professor, Dr. K. Peter Lade in 1999, has earned the prestigious award established to perpetuate the name and contributions of Elkins, a former Rhodes Scholar who led the University of Maryland to new levels of distinction as its president from 1954-1978. When the new University System of Maryland began in 1988, Elkins agreed that his professorship should extend to the entire USM family.

The two Co-Directors of PACE, Basehart from the Political Science Department and Kane from Philosophy, share over 60 years of teaching, scholarship and civic engagement at Salisbury University and now they will share an $80,000 award that accompanies the title. The funding will be used to build on their work and to establish a new, pilot initiative--The Presidential Citizen Scholar Program--that will provide an intensive, multi-faceted, year-long civic experience for three dozen students. Upon completion of their courses and extra-curricular activities, these students will be given the first ever Presidential Citizen Scholar Certificates. If the pilot program goes well, PACE wants to expand it in the upcoming years, getting more and more students involved in the political life of communities.

When asked about the possibilities for the new program, PACE’s managing director, Pauline Gehnrich, said, “This gives us a chance to offer more diverse opportunities for our students and, for me personally, that is what is so exciting about working with them: watching their interest and confidence being sparked when they find out what they can actually do. I think their lack of political engagement can be traced not so much to apathy but to their inexperience.”

Michele Vinbury is an example of a student who lost her apprehension when she began work for the Coastal Bays Sensitive Areas Initiative. “I felt like I was part of the process and part of the solution,” she said. “This internship has reminded me that I can make a difference; I can be an important link in bringing about change.”

This fall, PACE’s efforts with students will center on an ambitious effort to get out the vote. Their efforts, which they have called “Your Voice, Your Vote,” will try to reach students where they are--in the dorms and classrooms, dinning halls and concerts halls--to get them registered and, where needed, to walk them through the often arcane procedures for voting by absentee ballot. Even here, the emphasis is on student involvement. “We find,” Basehart said, “that peer pressure is a tremendous tool in getting students to vote.”

President Janet Dudley-Eshbach was enthusiastic in her response to the Elkins Award: "Fran Kane and Harry Basehart are two of Salisbury University's most distinguished professors. Their efforts to engage students in the political process come at a critical time for our society. The University System's recognition of their work is a powerful validation of both their stature and their priorities."

Those sentiments have also been echoed by students who have been involved with PACE. Sara Ciconis, an intern for the Salisbury Housing Task Force commented on her experience: “I have developed so much more of a sense of community than I ever had before.” Justin Huebner, an intern in Fruitland, reiterated her point. “I had experiences in Fruitland that will help me the rest of my life. Before, civic duty was just an idea; now I have seen it in practice.”

It is those kinds of responses that keep Basehart and Kane hopeful about our young citizens becoming engaged in the democratic process.

For more information call 410-543-6030 or visit the SU Web site at www.salisbury.edu.

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Harry Basehart

(Ph.D. The Ohio State University) A professor and former chair of Salisbury University’s Political Science Department, Basehart has taught courses on local, state and national government for more than 30 years. He also has supervised SU’s General Assembly interns since 1976 and directed more than 300 students in governmental internships.

Basehart was a member of Governor Parris Glendening’s Special Committee on Voting Systems and Election Procedures. He is a recipient of the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents’ highest honor, the Faculty Award for Excellence in Community Service. He has co-authored articles for American Politics Quarterly and Legislative Studies Quarterly. He co-authored State and Local Government: Politics and Public Policies, a college textbook now in its eighth edition from McGraw Hill.

A Vietnam War veteran, he has returned to the country twice, in 1997 and 2001. “I wanted to see how the country had changed since the war,” he said. “Over one-half of the Vietnamese population today was born after the war ended. Many of them don’t have any direct connection to the war. They want to put it behind them more so than many Americans. They want to establish a better relationship with the United States.”

Fran Kane

(Ph.D. Georgetown University) Kane has been a member of the Philosophy Department for 30 years, serving as its chair for more than half that time. Teaching politics and professional ethics, he chaired committees that authored the University’s mission statement, inaugurated the Honors Program and developed the Fulton School’s long-range plan that led to PACE’s founding. He also chaired the Wicomico County Board of Education Values Committee, which developed a nationally recognized policy for teaching about religion in public schools.

In addition, he has written numerous articles during the past two decades for publications including The New York Times Book Review, The Hastings Center Report, Commonweal and The Cambridge Journal for International Health Care.

His book, Neither Beasts nor Gods: Civic Life and the Public Good, published by Southern Methodist University Press, was praised by Dan Rather: “Clearly written and persuasively argued, this book should be read by serious students and armchair philosophers—and I daresay by the press and public officeholders, too.” William F. May said of Kane’s book, “He writes with that touch of grace which we prize in a G.K. Chesterton and a C.S.Lewis.”

Both Basehart and Kane have earned SU’s Distinguished Faculty Award.


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