Zavala Program for Constitutional Studies to launch with lectures, reading group

Lorenzo de Zavala. Photo courtesy of Texas State Library and Archives Commission

By Jenna Fitzgerald | Copy Editor

After establishing the Zavala Program for Constitutional Studies in the fall 2021 semester, Baylor’s Department of Political Science is preparing to kick off a series of lectures and reading groups in February while welcoming its inaugural class of Zavala Fellows.

According to Baylor’s website, the Zavala Program “is dedicated to augmenting the civic education of Baylor students and the general public by sponsoring lectures, colloquia and reading groups to discuss the major issues and ideas affecting modern constitutional systems.”

The program takes its name from Lorenzo de Zavala — one of the Founding Fathers of the Republic of Texas who contributed to the Mexican Constitution of 1824 and the Texas Constitution of 1836.

Dr. Jordan Cash, director of the Zavala Program, said he had experienced a similar program when he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia. After discussing the prospect of establishing something comparable at Baylor with other faculty, he applied for and received a $20,000 grant from the Jack Miller Center to create the Zavala Program.

“[The program at the University of Virginia] was a great experience for me; I think it was a great experience for the students … in supporting civic education,” Cash said. “So when I moved down here to Baylor, I thought, ‘Well this is a perfect environment for something like this.’ We have a very strong American politics core faculty here in the department who are interested in ideas about constitutionalism, American political thought.”

According to Cash, there are four speakers scheduled to visit this semester, including Dr. Sidney Milkis from the University of Virginia, Dr. Matthew Brogdon from the University of Texas at San Antonio, Dr. C. Bradley Thompson from Clemson University and Dr. Gary Jacobson from the University of Texas at Austin.

In addition to hosting the speakers, the Zavala Program will undertake a reading of Orestes Brownson’s “The American Republic.” Cash said the book is particularly well-suited to Baylor since it has an “integration of not only politics and religion but specifically American constitutionalism and religion.”

“This is the kind of thing that R1 institutions do: develop these programs, expand our reach,” Cash said. “I think we’re already a great center for the study of American politics, but now we can increase that claim and further show that if you want to study American politics, if you want to study the Constitution, if you want to understand the political theories that underlie our constitutional system, Baylor’s the place to be.”

According to Cash, students were selected as Zavala Fellows after being recommended by a professor, with about 30 students receiving the offer and about 16 of them responding with interest. Dr. David Bridge, associate faculty member of the Zavala Program, said he hopes members of the inaugural class will understand the significant role they play in the political operation of the country.

“I hope they feel that their voice matters,” Bridge said. “Even in a large country with overlapping institutions, everything really comes down to the people. If the citizenry knows how the government and how the Constitution works, I think that they would see that they matter, and their views and their engagement can make a difference.”

Bridge also said the Zavala Program will afford members of the inaugural class with an opportunity to move beyond partisanship and examine institutions.

“I think that Zavala works hand-in-hand with my department’s philosophy on education and the constitution requirement and asking students to go beyond partisanship — to think about institutions, to think about engagement, to think about what is best, not just for themselves, but for their city, their state, the country and the world in general,” Bridge said.

Cash said the Zavala Program’s study of constitutionalism, while rooted in the past, is still pertinent today.

“These issues are not just in the classroom,” Cash said. “They’re not just archaic debates. These theories do mean something, and we need to understand them if we’re going to be able to effect the kind of change we want to see in our political system. So I hope, in addition to just the academic benefits, the scholastic benefits, that it will encourage students to think more broadly about how they can get involved.”