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Charles Helm to Present Liberal Arts Lecture September 14

September 8, 2004

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MACOMB, IL - - Democracy demands involvement and engagement from its citizens, yet nationally we are experiencing a troubling decline in trust in government, attention to political events and voter participation. This decline in citizen involvement is particularly striking among 18 to 24 year old voters.

Charles Helm, professor and chair of the Western Illinois University political science department, will examine the problem of the decline of civic engagement and offer a “cure” - - democratic theory & a liberal arts education - - when he presents the second annual College of Arts and Sciences Liberal Arts Lecture at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14, in the Union Grand Ballroom.

“Declining Civic Engagement: Democratic Theory and Liberal Arts to the Rescue?” will address the assumed link between knowledge and human development; analyze arguments linking the liberal arts with the fostering of civic engagement and democratic participation; question conflicting views of the values and outcomes of a liberal arts education; and address questions of civic engagement theory and practice in our democratic republic.

“Throughout much of the history of American education the liberal arts have been implicitly, and at times explicitly, linked with progress, growth and human development,” Helm said. “Jefferson and Adams argued for the development of educational institutions and in particular the fostering of the liberal arts as an essential foundation for participating and political involvement in the new republic.

“In the latter part of the 19th century, universities saw their task as the fostering of virtue and character and the education of citizens for democratic life. In the 20th centuries these goals were generally seen as too partisan and tended to be replaced with the scientific method and the language of neutrality in moral values,” he added. “The talk will try to sort among these conflicting claims about the role of the liberal arts, particularly in the area of civic engagement, and probe how directive, how far down the road of affirming particular values in the classroom we can go as instructors in the liberal arts.

“The liberal arts can offer us a framework for understanding what we should care about. At their best they can remind us of our failures and point us forward to a more just society,” Helm said.

Helm, who joined Western’ faculty in 1972, has served as department chair since 1996. He is co-chair of Western’s participation in the American Democracy Project, which is a joint venture of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), the New York Times, and some 170 AASCU colleges and universities. The project seeks to engage the higher education community -- administrators, faculty, staff, and students -- in discussions and activities about civic involvement.

His research interests are in contemporary political theory and questions of democracy, justice and the philosophy of the social sciences. Recently Helm has been researching the Internet as an agent of democratic renewal and the ongoing effort to reform campaign finance. He has published articles on popular culture in Germany, Workplace Safety & Health, Milgram’s Obedience Experiments, causality and explanation in the social sciences, newspaper coverage of Jimmy Carter’s 1976 run for the presidency and Rush Limbaugh through the eyes of the introductory political science text.

Helm was awarded a yearlong Faculty Fellowship in Residence at the University of Chicago from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH); and in collaboration with Mario Morelli, chair of Western’s philosophy and religious studies department, Helm was awarded an NEH Consultantship Grant on Law and Society. He has attended numerous NEH and National Science Foundation summer seminars. He earned an associate in arts degree from Montgomery College (MD), a bachelor and master of arts from the University of Maryland and his doctorate from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

In September 2003, English Professor and Historian John Hallwas delivered the inaugural Liberal Arts Lecture on “The Liberal Arts, Civic Responsibility and Western’s Mission.”

The Liberal Arts Lecture is an outgrowth of the College of Arts and Sciences liberal arts discussion group formed in 2002 as a way to express commitment to a liberal arts education at Western and share approaches for maintaining a high quality educational program.

“It was our intent for the event to become an annual tradition in which an outstanding WIU faculty member is selected as the lecturer,” said John Simmons, philosophy and religious studies professor and discussion group member. “The lecture and reception have been created to stimulate campuswide discussion of not just what we do but why we do it and to insure that our programs and our teaching initiatives reflect our deepest purposes.”

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