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Academic council approved by senate for civics center at Miami

Senator Jerry Cirino first proposed five civic centers at Ohio universities in Senate Bill 117, but the legislation was passed through the senate’s budget.
Senator Jerry Cirino first proposed five civic centers at Ohio universities in Senate Bill 117, but the legislation was passed through the senate’s budget.

Seven individuals have been named to oversee the operation of the Miami University Center for Civics, Culture, and Society by the Ohio Senate.

The nominations for the council passed the Ohio Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee on Feb. 28 in a vote of 4-1. Senator Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati), the only Democrat on the committee, voted against it but did not explain why.

Ingram did not respond to a request for comment.

At its December meeting, Miami’s Board of Trustees approved an academic council of alumni and political officials who will work to create a center focused on American constitutional ideas and traditions. The initial individuals approved by the board were not the same individuals approved by the state senate, but Alecia Lipton, associate director of media relations at Miami, said the university was allowed to amend the council until it was heard by the senate committee.

The initial council approved by the board of trustees included two women, former Miami trustee Sandy Collins and Columbus lawyer Leah Pappas Porner. After the revisions, seven men were confirmed.

Miami was one of five universities to receive state funding for the creation of a civics center, receiving $2 million each fiscal year. The other universities include Cleveland State University, the University of Toledo (UT) and the Ohio State University (OSU). The University of Cincinnati was originally named in the legislation, but during the same committee meeting, Senator Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) said the center will now be located at Wright State University. 

According to the legislation, each school was required to appoint its council by Dec. 31. So far, only the councils for OSU, UT and Miami have been approved.

Members were required to have relevant experience, and only one member could be an employee of the university. Each member will also be subject to term limits, with three of the members serving two years and four members serving four years, which will be decided at the first council meeting.

Ryan Barilleaux

Barilleaux, a professor of political science, is the only Miami faculty member on the council. According to his university biography, his research “focuses on executive and administrative power in the American political system.”

During his time at Miami, he has won the Distinguished Service Award from Miami’s DisAbilities Awareness Club, the Outstanding Teacher Award from Miami’s Associated Student Government and the Effective Educator Award from Miami’s Alumni Association.

Barilleaux said he “hopes that it will live up to what the state legislature expected when it created the Center.”

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According to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Voter Files, Barilleaux is registered with the Republican Party. 

Thomas Cleveland

From August 2017 to June 2018, Cleveland was a postdoctoral fellow at Miami where he taught political theory and American politics. Now, he is the executive director of the American Political Tradition Project at the Jack Miller Center.

The Jack Miller Center is a nonprofit organization that creates campus programs that encourage education in “America’s founding principles and history.” Although the Jack Miller Center is a nonprofit organization, the founder of the center collaborated with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which promotes conservative thoughts on college campuses, to conceptualize the center.

Cleveland did not respond to a request for comment.

Donald Crain

After graduating from Miami in 1970, Crain has since continued to be involved with the university. He served as a trustee from 2006 to 2015, president of the Red & White Club Board, a member of the Miami Middletown Citizens Advisory Council and a member of the Miami University Foundations Board for seven years. A former Miami baseball player, Crain and his wife endowed the Donald and Susan Crain Baseball Scholarship.

Crain said he was approached by the president's office to sit on the council, and he was interested because it combined his interests in history, political science and civics.

"I think Miami was chosen because we do all these things right," Crain said. "I think we're kind of looked at as an example of how to do most of the things that this legislation wants to accomplish, but there are always ways to improve."

According to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Voter Files, Crain is registered with the Republican Party.

Gary Gregg

In 1991, Gregg graduated with his master’s in political science from Miami and went on to earn his doctorate degree in the same field three years later. Now Gregg directs the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville.

Founded by U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, the center is a nonpartisan organization that offers “civic education programs for teachers, students and the public.”

Dennis Lieberman

Lieberman graduated from Miami in 1975 with his bachelor’s degree in political science and sociology with a concentration in gerontology. He continued his education at the Dayton School of Law, where he continues to teach as an adjunct professor.

He served on Miami’s Board of Trustees from 2009 to 2018. He was also the chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Party for 13 years and served on the Montgomery County Board of Elections for 11 years. Although he is the only verified Democratic-affiliated member on the council according to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Voter Files, he is not worried about political ideology playing a role in the creation of the center.

“With my over 40 years of experience in all these areas, I’ve learned a lot about the ability to discuss matters with people who don’t agree with you in a civil way, about the ability to do what’s good for the community,” Lieberman said.

Jeffrey Sikkenga

Sikkenga has been a professor of political science at Ashland University since 1997, where he teaches courses on political thought, the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court and civic education. He is also the executive director of the Ashbrook Center, which is an independent center at Ashland that works to “strengthen constitutional self-government” of students, teachers and citizens through education. The center is named in honor of Congressman John Ashbrook, who represented Ohio’s 17th Congressional district for over 20 years.

According to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Voter Files, Sikkenga is registered with the Republican Party.

Sikkenga did not respond to a request for comment.

Bradley Smith

Republican commissioner Smith was nominated to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by President Bill Clinton and confirmed by the U.S. senate in 2000. During his term, which ended in 2005, he served as vice chairman in 2003 and chairman in 2004.

He is now an endowed professor of law at Capital University. In addition to Miami’s council, Smith has been confirmed to sit on the Salmon P. Chase Center for Civics, Culture, and Society at OSU.

“One thing you really have to learn to do, if you want to be effective at the FEC, is how to work with people and how to build coalitions and find compromises and make everybody happy, so that may be the biggest takeaway as I work for Miami,” Smith said.

Although a timeline is unclear, the next steps for the council will be to determine term limits for the members as well as launch an open search for a director of the center.