University celebrates Constitution Day

By Jamie Sapp | Editor-in-Chief

Sept. 17 marked Constitution Day and Augusta University celebrated on a sunny Friday, Sept. 16, on the Summerville campus.

Some students may wonder, what is it? Why does it matter? Does “We the People…” sound familiar?

Constitution Day celebrates the signing of the final version of the United States Constitution, which recognized all American citizens and was signed by 39 delegates on Sept. 17, 1787. Congress created Constitution Day in 2004 and required schools to recognize the national day on or close to Sept. 17 every year through educational events, according to an online article published on Sept. 27 in The Washington Post.

In recognition of the national day, students and faculty participated in various events on the Summerville campus. A democracy plaza and a photo booth session took place in the JSAC Breezeway.

Communication professor Debra van Tuyll and her “Introduction to Research” class were also involved in the celebration. The class took turns reading the U.S. Constitution at the Teardrop on the Summerville campus at noon.

The U.S. Constitution matters because the U.S. presidential race of this year is getting close to an end and Americans still have time to vote. However, only a small percentage of Americans know about the vice presidential candidates of the Democratic and Republican parties, or even know the three main branches of government, according to a recent survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania.

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution includes the freedom of speech, “or of the press,” as well as “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”

To end the campus celebration, faculty members held a discussion panel in the JSAC Coffeehouse about free speech on campus to remind people why the U.S. Constitution still matters in modern American society.

The panelists were Andrew Goss, department chair of history, anthropology and philosophy; Debra van Tuyll, communication professor; Robert Mullins, assistant professor in social sciences at East Georgia State College; and Craig Albert, assistant professor in political science and moderator of the panel.

The panelists discussed topics such as free speech issues on campus and policies about free speech to trigger warnings and safe zones at colleges and universities.

When discussing the guild structure in U.S. universities, Goss said the guild structure has adapted slowly to the changes and pressures of democracy.

“You can write these policies, guild writes policies, and boy, universities write policies,” he said. “They write policies in reaction to these new democratic and other pressures. I think a lot of that does not move at the speed that many stakeholders would like. They don’t think it moves fast enough.”

Goss said a lot of challenges can be addressed if policies are written with broad involvement from stakeholders throughout the university and the community.

During the panel on free speech issues, van Tuyll discussed the regulation on free speech at campuses, including University of Chicago’s stand on trigger warnings and safe zones in Aug. 2016.

Van Tuyll said Augusta University has defended free speech on campus much more than offended it. She also said AU does not have any speech codes.

“Thus far, there has been no calls for a speech code here on this campus,” she said. “We have not had any resolutions or rules passed regarding micro-aggressions, hate speech or any other form of speech that’s (somehow) objectionable, and that’s a good thing. I personally would like to see us go further. I would like to see our university pursue achievement of that green light rating, in the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.”

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, is an organization that defends individual rights at U.S. universities and colleges. According to the 2016 annual report on the FIRE website, no university or college in Georgia is currently on the green light list for no threats on free speech.

Contact Jamie Sapp at jsapp270@augusta.edu.

Published on October 5, 2016 in Vol. 59, Issue 1 of The Bell Ringer newspaper.

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