Symposium addresses civil liberties

By Erin Renzas

Several professors discussed civil liberties and the future of the American democracy Thursday before a packed room of University students for the first day of the Spring 2005 Richard G. and Carole J. Cline Symposium.

University professors Ira Carmen, James Pfander and Steve Helle joined Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago Law School in talking about the Supreme Court’s role in addressing civil liberties issues and criticism of the Patriot Act and Bush Administration actions.

The symposium, funded by the Clines, is designed to give students and faculty members the opportunity to discuss a different topic each semester that is relevant to the current political situation surrounding civil society. It will continue through Friday afternoon.

Richard Cline, a University alumnus, is the former president and CEO of Nicor, Inc., one of the largest natural gas distribution companies in the country.

The conference, titled “National Security and Civil Liberties: Striking Balance in Times of Terror,” gives students the opportunity to discuss and debate about the current issues surrounding national security and civil liberties.

“The mission that was set out for us was to address citizenship and the role of civic society today,” said Donald Greco, symposium coordinator and the assistant director for the Center for the Study of Democratic Governance at the University.

“The topic is based on Professor Stone’s book, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime, which is a historical look at how (the United States) government has responded in wartime situations and how it has sought to protect and secure the nation, often through heightened surveillance at the risk of civil liberties, particularly regulation of speech and the press,” Greco said.

Nearly 70 students, primarily from the political science department, will participate in the two-day event. Students will meet with several different alumni and professors throughout the conference to talk about role of freedom of speech and First Amendment rights in maintaining democracy.

This is the fourth Cline Symposium for Ryan Spain, senior in LAS and president of Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honors society. This year’s symposium is different from past symposia, Spain said.

“This year what we are trying to do is have different situations that students can act out that are really relevant and that are happening today,” he said. “This is the first year we are trying to produce a tangible recommendation and a record that we can keep.”

Spain said the issue of civil liberties in times when national security is threatened is particularly relevant today, a time where terrorism and war define world and domestic politics.

Helle, journalism professor and participant in the roundtable discussion and public forum, agreed.

“It is particularly timely because the Patriot Act expires at the end of this year and President Bush ran for reelection that it be made permanent,” Helle said of this year’s topic.

The point of the symposium, Greco said, is to initiate discussion among students and citizens about the different issues facing the American public today.

“Hopefully this will further encourage students to be involved in civics and in politics – to become leaders – and will prompt those who aren’t interested or involved to become so,” Greco said. “We often just don’t take the time and think about these issues – civil liberties, civic engagement and responsibility.”

Traditionally, the symposium has been an annual event, but its recent success has enabled the event to occur both in the spring and fall semesters.

Students are chosen to participate in the event through a nomination process by political science professors at the University or through their enrollment in the political science normative politics course.