Martin Institute at Stonehill College in Easton Turns 20
April 16, 2010
By Vicki-Ann Downing
Brockton Enterprise Staff Writer
On a warm night last September, the walkways at Stonehill College, normally filled with students hiking to dinner and dormitories, were occupied instead by older people, many of them Jewish, destined for a brick building behind the new Science Center.
It was the Joseph W. Martin Institute for Law and Society, where Amy-Jill Levine, a New Bedford native and professor at Vanderbilt University, was to speak on the intriguing topic "Jesus, the Synagogue and the Church: Law, Sex, God and Multiculturalism."
The Martin Institute, which opened 20 years ago this spring, regularly draws the outside community into the college with programs as diverse as a conversation with Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, who is running for governor; "The Skin Quilt Project," a documentary about African-American quilters; and speakers such as Levine, whose appearance was sponsored by the college's Catholic-Jewish Dialogue Committee.
Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill and director of the Martin Institute since 2007, sees the Institute as "a center for interdisciplinary inquiry on campus, innovative student learning, a resource for faculty and a center for intellectual life for the surrounding community as well."
The Martin Institute was established by Stonehill in 1990 with a $6 million federal grant.
The College archives already housed the papers of Martin, a North Attleboro newspaperman and Republican who served as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1940s and '50s, and the Martin Institute is decorated with memorabilia from his service, including his desk and photographs with world leaders.
The Institute came to prominence in 1996 when it hosted one of six statewide televised debates between U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry and his challenger, Massachusetts Gov. William Weld.
The late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy spoke at the Martin Institute when he opened the Center for Nonprofit Management in 2006, and Andrew Card, chief of staff to former President George W. Bush, spent an evening there in 2007 telling students what life was like in the administration, particularly on Sept. 11, 2001.
In addition to its archival collections, the building houses offices of the political science and sociology departments; the college archives, which include the Martin papers, the photographic collection of Stanley A. Bauman and the papers of Michael Novak, a Stonehill graduate and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; five classrooms, a lecture hall and an auditorium.
Intellectually, it strives to be the place where public policy and social justice are discussed across many fields of interest.
As the Institute's first full-time director, Ubertaccio organized its offerings around single themes. The first, which took place over the course of a year, was war; the second, which ran for two years, was globalization.
Now the Institute is about to embark on a third: indigenous peoples. Students will study "Indigenous People in the Americas: Music, Culture and Governance," with courses on Latin American music and American governance, and a trip to Peru to study the culture there.
Faculty members are brainstorming ideas for speakers and courses, Ubertaccio said, and students have the opportunity to create major or minor fields of study on their own.
In tribute to Martin, the Institute continues to offer its Stonehill in Washington program. Students spend a semester in the capital or meet with Ubertaccio throughout the semester to discuss issues of politics and policy-making. In May, they make an intensive two-week trip to Washington with him.
What would Martin, a conservative Republican, think of the offerings of the Institute that carries his name?
"He came from a different time when partisan differences were not as vitriolic as they can be today," said Ubertaccio. "He was quite conservative, but he had a very good and friendly and workman-like relationship with the Democratic party. I think he would be quite pleased that we've been open to alternative voices - that alternative voices in public policy can be articulated here and not shouted down."
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