Constitution Day commemoration focuses on education’s role in a democracy

Constitution Day commemoration focuses on education’s role in a democracy

L to R, Joe Dunman, Angela Curry, Enid Trucios-Haynes, Cedric Merlin Powell, Melanie Jacobs, Frederick Lawrence and Kim Schatzel.

Brandeis School of Law’s Breit Courtroom was nearly full to capacity with faculty, staff and a good number of students when Dean Melanie B. Jacobs and UofL President Kim Schatzel welcomed attorney and former university president Frederick Lawrence on Sept. 19.

Lawrence keynoted the school’s commemoration of Constitution Day 2023. The event also helped kick off the university’s celebration of Schatzel’s inauguration as UofL’s 19th president and was part of the yearlong series of events marking the university’s 225th anniversary.

Lawrence today is the secretary of the Phi Beta Kappa Society and was previously president of Brandeis University and dean of George Washington University’s School of Law. His topic was the role of universities in a fully functioning democracy.

He opened with a quotation from Justice Louis D. Brandeis: “If we are to be led by the light of reason, let our minds be bold.” And he closed with a quote from Brandeis’ protégé, Justice Felix Frankfurter: “To regard teachers—in our entire educational system, from the primary grades to the university—as the priests of our democracy is … not to indulge in hyperbole.”

“It is the special task of teachers to foster those habits of open-mindedness and critical inquiry which alone make for responsible citizens who in turn make possible an enlightened and effective public opinion (needed to create a functioning democracy),” he said.

“A renewed and strengthened national commitment to accessible and inclusive education will not only permit members of our society to live more meaningful lives, and more productive lives, but it will allow our nation to resist authoritarian impulses and embrace the openness of mind and spirit that are as essential today for a self-governing people in a democratic society as they were … 236 years ago when the framers signed the Constitution. …

“Indeed, the ultimate authority of their signing and the ultimate authority to which we must continue to appeal and which our nation is duty bound to educate, is, ‘We the People.’”

Lawrence’s address was followed by a spirited panel discussion that included Brandeis Law professors Cedric Merlin Powell, Enid Trucios-Haynes and Joe Dunman and UofL General Counsel Angela Curry.

The presentation can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube here. A photo gallery from the event is available on Flickr.