Gift to Fund Formation of New Center at Catawba College

An anonymous $360,000 gift to Catawba College is dedicated to the founding of a new Center whose focus and mission is on studying North Carolina politics and promoting public service.

The Center will be led by well-known politics professor Dr. Michael Bitzer, who envisions an academic center devoted to involving students, as well as the greater community, in civic engagement and public service, with a focus on the politics of North Carolina.  

“North Carolina is a battleground state for national elections and reflects so many national political dynamics,” explains Bitzer. “Catawba students are genuinely interested in public service because so many of them feel a calling to public service.”

“This center will help our students and others better understand the political dynamics of North Carolina and give them a chance to explore public service opportunities to perhaps be the future public servants and leaders for our communities, state, and maybe even national government.”

Initial activities of the Center include a speaker series, as well as a fellows program to support students pursuing internships at the federal, state, and local levels. In addition, the Center would provide them with financial resources to explore the vocation of public service. Other initiatives include a summer workshop for high school civics teachers, focused on professional development sessions about American and North Carolina civic and political literacy to meet the state standards. Other projects may include a website housing North Carolina political data as a public resource, along with opportunities for cross-collaboration with several other academic departments at Catawba.

“It is important to advance a civic mindset in fellow citizens. We all recognize the polarized environment we are in, but citizens need to have informed and deliberative conversations about self-governance and the idea of forming that ‘more perfect union’,” said Bitzer. “There is a need to put civility back into civil discourse. We don’t all have to agree, but we must understand how our differences come about and more importantly, where there are potential agreements in our society and governance.”

He sees the Center’s potential to create both a space and place where ideas can be engaged in with reason and respect, where the emphasis is not on the causes of conflict but on coming to the table together to find solutions.

“It is not about advocacy,” he adds of the Center, “but rather bringing cross-partisan ideas to various topics of public interest, and potentially serving as a bridge for finding commonality and public purpose towards serving the common good.”

Through 2024, the Center will work with the Commission on the Future of NC Elections, a cross-partisan effort whose focus includes understanding how the state’s elections are administered in a fair, safe, and secure manner. The Commission will meet on Catawba’s campus in October 2023. 

The sixty members of the Commission, of which Bitzer is one, will form small subgroups each working with a different topic. The subgroups will host various meetings and hearings, gathering information and witness testimonies, and issue a post-2024 election report describing its findings on N.C elections and possible policy recommendations for public information and consideration.

Dr. Bitzer expresses his sincere gratitude for the generous gift that will enable the hiring of an additional political science faculty member and an administrative assistant, who initially will provide support for the Commission and then transition to support the Center as it develops. The gift funding also helps kickstart programmatic activities for greater exposure to this new initiative at Catawba College.

About Michael Bitzer

A professor of politics and history at Catawba since 2002, Dr. Bitzer's teaching interests are in American politics, public administration, public policy, and the law, courts, and judicial process area. His research interests are in Southern politics, North Carolina politics, campaigns & elections, law, and judicial politics. He currently holds the T.P. and J.C. Leonard Chair of Political Science.

He has been interviewed by local, state, national, and international news outlets on American politics and the politics of North Carolina, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Irish Times, The Raleigh News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer, ABC, NBC, Fox, CNN, MSNBC, the BBC, London Broadcast Company, France24, and the Australian Broadcast Corporation, among others. He also founded, manages, and writes for the political blog, Old North State Politics. In 2021, Bitzer authored the book, Redistricting and Gerrymandering in North Carolina: Battlelines in the Tar Heel State.

Bitzer earned his B.A. degree from Erskine College, master's degree in history from Clemson University, and doctorate in political science from The University of Georgia's School of Public and International Affairs.

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