(The Center Square) – Chances to “to make a dent in our polarized environment for the pursuit of a ‘more perfect union’” are possible and wanted with a new center at Catawba College focused on politics and public service.
An anonymous gift of $360,000 will fund the initiative led by one of the state’s most respected voices in politics. Michael Bitzer, professor of politics and history at the private college in Salisbury for over two decades, envisions a new academic center focused on engaging students and the community in civic life and public service, particularly in North Carolina politics.
“I think this is needed in North Carolina because this state represents so many aspects and dynamics of our polarized partisan world: the parties growing further and further apart, the self-sorting of residents and voters into like-minded communities that don’t have any interaction with the other ‘side of the aisle,’ and things like the urban-rural divide,” Bitzer told The Center Square. “If this initiative can bring folks together, understand where they are coming from, and perhaps also understand that can be common ground between the parties, then I’d say we can start to make a dent in our polarized environment for the pursuit of a ‘more perfect union.’”
Biztzer is a go-to resource for local and national news outlets, including The Center Square, on North Carolina and American politics. He manages and writes for the political blog Old North State Politics, and authored a book in 2021 on redistricting in North Carolina.
He’ll lead activities at the center that will initially include a speakers series, fellows program to support students pursuing internships, and financial resources for students to explore public service.
“I think this initiative, that will start off with a speaker’s series and hopefully supporting public service internships for Catawba students, will really focus on the idea of public service and civic engagement for better understanding North Carolina politics,” Bitzer told The Center Square. “We desperately need civil and civic conversations about the issues, and I’m hoping that we can bring folks who exemplify the ideal of public service commitment and engagement for our civil society.”
Other plans in the works include a summer workshop for high school civics teachers designed to meet professional development standards that will center on American and North Carolina civic and political literacy.
Future projects may include a public website hosting North Carolina political data, as well as collaborative opportunities with other academic departments at the college.
The center will also work with the Commission on the Future of NC Elections, set to meet on Catawba’s campus this month, as part of a cross-partisan effort to focus in on how the state’s elections are administered.
Bitzer is among 60 members of the commission that are hosting meetings and hearings through small subgroups to collect information and testimonies through next year that will be used to issue a report and policy recommendations following the 2024 election.
The center, Bitzer said, will work to “advance a civic mindset in fellow citizens” amid at eroding the contentious political landscape through reason and respect for varying perspectives.
Rather than advocacy, the center will aim to bring “cross-partisan ideas to various topics of public interest, and potentially serving as a bridge for finding commonality and public purpose towards serving the common good,” Bitzer said.
The anonymous $360,000 gift will help to hire an additional political science faculty member and an administrative assistant, who will work with both the Commission on the Future of Elections and the center, a release says.