The purpose of The Institute is to shape America’s future by educating students with a passion for public affairs and a commitment to free inquiry and the search for truth. Exploring diverse ideas about politics, markets, and society, The Institute seeks to challenge presuppositions, question easy answers, and foster constructive dialogue.
- To support free inquiry and free and spirited expression where students with diverse points of view and values can study, discuss, and debate political and social issues in a respectful environment.
- To offer curricular and co-curricular opportunities to study and debate these ideas and issues.
- To use both on-campus and off-campus resources to enliven the discussion.
- To bring nationally recognized thinkers and practitioners to campus.
- To expand the College’s capacity for teaching and research in the disciplines most relevant to governments, markets, and societies.
- To be interdisciplinary. Theological, philosophical and economic considerations will be employed to identify that what sorts of things have ultimate value and what sorts of conditions can be understood as just. Historical and genealogical approaches will help elucidate how ideas and institutions have developed and what has already been attempted. Social scientific approaches will contribute to an awareness of how the world works and what sorts of things are practical.
- To emphasize discussion and deliberation, challenging students to think critically and carefully about their own assumptions by examining topics from diverse cultural and ideological perspectives.
- To foster an environment of civil and respectful disagreement in which all students are encouraged to share their ideas, regardless of how unpopular their ideas may be.
- To foster an environment conducive to constructive, civil and respectful exploration of a wide range of issues and ideas.
- To help students explore vocations and careers related to the goals of The Institute.
The Institute’s Program
These are the types of activities that The Institute supports as part of its mission.
1. Public Affairs Conversation: Two Linked Courses and an Internship
PACON 280: Foundational Debates — Initiates the programs accruing general education requirements.
This course examines American ideals and the tensions among them, ideals such as freedom, community, equality, democracy, justice, responsibility, and authority. The course analyzes the political, economic, moral, and religious dimensions of the debates and decisions that continue to shape American society. It considers classic founding documents, ideas that influenced the founders, and the major thinkers and events relevant to understanding the diverse range of models for government, markets, and society. Juniors and seniors only. Taught annually in the fall semester.
PACON 281: Contemporary Controversies — Counts toward accrued general education credit: EIN, HBS
This contemporary public affairs course examines normative commitments and empirical evidence relevant to the workings of government, markets, and society as applied to contemporary issues. Possible topics include immigration, abortion, education, sexuality, medical care, foreign policy, income inequality and poverty, affirmative action, and responses to climate change. Juniors and seniors only. Offered annually each spring.
Internship may be satisfied by: ID 295, Internship & Reflection Seminar or ID 294, Academic Internship (0, .25, .5, or 1.0 credit)
An internship will provide students with a context for vocational reflection and further analysis. This will include consideration of potential career paths and the value of different professional contexts in American public affairs. The internship ideally will take place in the interim between the two courses; however, students may also do the internship in the summer as a capstone after taking both courses. The varying timing of the internship means that the second course will include both reflection after and before students’ internships. Students may register for any credit option including 0, .25, .5, and 1.0. Interim internships will always be 1.0 credits. Summer internships can be variable credit. The Piper Center has been consulted regarding logistical and other support for these internships. Typically, the Program Director or another faculty colleague will supervise the internship and provide academic content using the existing 294 internship designation (when credits are involved.).
2. Faculty Development Workshops
The Institute will sponsor summer workshops for faculty who are interested in (1) teaching the program’s student courses, (2) introducing a component into or otherwise enriching their current courses, (3) enhancing interactions with students and student organizations and activities, or (4) developing greater information and clarity about political policy debates over America’s future and how to more fruitfully engage in them. These workshops will be led by the Director or other faculty who are recruited by the Director. The syllabus will overlap those of the student courses, and will include attention to both classic texts and contemporary debates. The main aim of the workshops will be to analyze and understand the past and future importance of the relevant texts, issues, and debates. The emphases will be on appreciating the diversity of viewpoints — including what are commonly called conservative, liberal, and moderate views — and on the pedagogical ability to elicit from students the capability to debate political policy issues as well as their religious and moral dimensions with competence, integrity, and appropriate respect for views that differ from their own.
3. The St. Olaf Symposium for Constructive Political Discourse and Inquiry
A campus-wide event that addresses a significant public policy issue in a way that challenges presuppositions, questions easy answer, and encourages respectful confrontation of divergent ideas. Topics will be selected based upon their societal significance and capacity to engage a broad range of disciplines in the liberal arts.
4. Lectures and Debates
To connect the campus to thinkers and debates beyond the campus, a well-funded program of lectures panels, and debates. This program could fund visiting lectures from prominent individuals on Healthcare, Genetic Engineering, Affirmative Action, Religious Liberty, Privacy and Security, Teachers’ Unions and Education, Free Speech, and perhaps even the Policing of Sexual Assault on Campus, Economics of College Education, Intellectual Diversity in Academia, and other topics that might hit close to home. The Institute would work with student groups such as St. Olaf Debate Society and the Political Action Committee to promote the student debates that are already taking place.
5. Postdoctoral Fellows
Postdoctoral faculty from a variety of disciplines. These dynamic young scholars would be expected to participate in the activities of The Institute, mentor fellows, present their own work, contribute to the Faculty Workshop, and teach in the program. They would be given a lighter teaching load — two or three courses — so that they could continue their own scholarship while at St Olaf.
6. Public Affairs Fellows
Practitioners for a multi-day residency on campus. Fellows would be chosen based upon career accomplishments and a willingness to discuss the challenges of implementing the central goals of The Institute in the venues of business, politics, and the nonprofit sector.
7. Other High Impact Learning Experiences
Funding internships, funding undergraduate research opportunities, off-campus study experiences. Funding grants for faculty to develop other courses or components of courses that use high impact learning experiences and that further the goals of The Institute.