First published in Around the O on October 5, 2020.
This fall the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics celebrates its 20th anniversary with a series of free online events centered around the idea of a just and inclusive democracy.
Established in 2000 to honor and sustain the fighting spirit and political independence of Oregon Sen. Wayne Morse, the center continues to be active and visible on the issues that Morse championed during his political career, including labor, civil rights and public education.
"The Wayne Morse Center enriches the community with vigorous discussion of the most important issues of our day, from climate change to inequality to maintaining the infrastructure of democracy," said Margaret Hallock, founding director of the Wayne Morse Center, who retired in 2015. "Sen. Morse himself was a champion of independent, people-focused politics, and the center trains university students in his rigorous examination of public policy."
UO students benefit from the center's law fellow and graduate research fellowship programs, as well as the Wayne Morse Scholars program, which was founded in 2013 for undergraduates from diverse backgrounds to cultivate political and leadership skills.
"One of the most exciting developments during my 12 years at the center has been the arrival of new programs and new faces that reflect growth in who we serve and connect with," said Dan Tichenor, Philip H. Knight Chair of Political Science and director of the center's Program for Democratic Governance. "The scholars program has brought scores of UO undergrads into the heart of our center's work, joining the law fellows, grad students, faculty and community groups we have long supported."
The scholars program has already trained more than 150 students who have gone on to make a difference in government agencies, community organizations, and fields from law and education to science and social work.
The interdisciplinary center has also focused on delivering public programs on problems that have emerged or changed dramatically during the 45 years since Morse’s death. Every two years, the Wayne Morse Center changes its theme of inquiry, delving deeply into topics including race, class, and the criminal justice System; Indigenous peoples; national policy and international human rights; borders, migration and belonging; and media and democracy. Its current theme is “Science, Policy and the Public.”
"Fresh themes and new speaker series have enabled us to host a changing set of prominent voices on compelling issues for our evolving campus, city and state," Tichenor said.
Past speakers include Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, former U.S. Sen. George McGovern, Chief Wilma Mankiller, U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold and Vandana Shiva.
"From the vantage point of 2020, in Oregon and beyond, it is clear that our public sphere needs innovative forms of civic engagement, education and leadership more than ever if we are to move beyond polarization and partisanship,” said Ellen Herman, Wayne Morse Center co-director and history professor. “That is exactly what the Wayne Morse Center promises to do in the future. From immigration and climate change to the perils and possibilities presented by genetic technologies, the center will continue to highlight the ever-widening array of challenges that our democracy faces."
—By Abbie Stillie, Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics