Political science professor Jonathan Laurence was named the director of Boston College’s Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy on Feb. 17.
“I look forward to having the Clough Center be a part of all students’ activities and lives at some point during their time at BC, whether they have an expressed interest in political science or not,” Laurence said. “We want students from the humanities, from the social sciences, from the art sciences, law school, and all over.”
The Clough Center was founded in 2008 to provide students with opportunities to discuss constitutional democracy and political life, according to its website. The center additionally sponsors a lecture series on topics ranging from racial justice to environmental issues, offers annual fellowships to over 50 BC students, funds summer work for undergraduates, and awards research grants to doctoral and law students, according to Laurence.
Constitutional democracy is relevant to all, Laurence said, as there are more democracies in the world today than there were 100 years ago.
“More of humanity is living under self-government and with accountable institutions subject to elections,” he said. “But, as we know very well from following the news of the last 10 to 15 years, constitutional democracy is not something that we can take for granted as an eternal pillar of the international system.”
The Clough Center is designed to seek solutions to the lack of accountability within democratic systems and overall knowledge about those systems, Laurence said.
“If we want this form of government to succeed, to survive, and to remain resilient, we need to understand how we optimize its performance,” he said. “That comes from reflection [and] recognizing the imperfections in the current system and how they can be improved.”
In order to encourage reflection and promote student involvement at the center, Laurence said he plans to launch a host of new programs.
“I’d like to introduce a system where each year has a broad theme around which we organize majors, symposiums, and smaller-scale debates and events,” he said.
According to Laurence, the Clough Center also plans to create a Clough doctoral fellowship for Ph.D. students at BC.
“The fellowships will be an addition to their overall package and will enhance their commitment to attending and to being part of the Clough community,” Laurence said.
Laurence said he plans to continue the center’s tradition of organizing timely and provocative discussions and forums.
“Next year we will be focusing on journalism and democracy as one of our main sub-themes and hope to organize a major symposium on topics related to freedom of the press, the role of social media, and disinformation,” he said.
Laurence, who plans to incorporate an international perspective in the center’s future events, said he and his team are currently gearing up to prepare for next year’s symposium and announce new student opportunities.
“I expect that we will have these announcements ready relatively soon, within the month,” he said. “That way, folks can begin to apply and think about projects or internships that might be worthy for consideration.”
Laurence said he is also excited about re-launching the center’s website, which he hopes will become more interactive for students and a useful tool for the general public, including journalists.
“I’m hoping the website will be a place where students can help create a space that is interesting, informative, and fun,” Laurence said. “Maybe a group of students would like to create a metric for following some criterion of democracy around the world. I could imagine that being something that is useful when people do internet searches.”
Vlad Perju, the center’s previous director, said with Laurence as the next director, he is confident the center is in expert hands.
“Jonathan is supremely qualified for the position,” Perju said. “He has an encyclopedic understanding of constitutional democracy, a deep curiosity about all things political, and a very keen sense of the complex dynamics of social and political relations in pluralist societies.”
The future of the center, according to Perju, lies in forging deeper relationships with students and faculty, which is something he said Laurence will excel at.
“He is a skilled administrator and someone with experience in creating innovative academic programs,” Perju said. “Personally, Jonathan is a friend, and I am delighted to see the Clough Center continue under his vision.”
Ultimately, Laurence said his key metric of success lies in the center’s ability to involve faculty and students across the entire BC community.
“We’ve all felt how our own constitutional order is fragile and in need of improvement,” Laurence said. “There’s no reason to limit ourselves disciplinarily to addressing that issue. It really is all hands on deck.”
Madison Sarka / Heights Archives