Ironically, Paul Neill, whose job it has been to organize the University’s Constitution Day activities, comes from a country that has no codified constitution.
“The United Kingdom has no ‘written’ constitution,” said Neill, who came to the United States from Belfast, Northern Ireland, nearly 20 years ago. “So, I guess, the constitutional rights are protected and guaranteed through the political and governmental structures—that’s my understanding.”
Following next week, Neill, the director of the University’s Core Curriculum, hopes Nevada students will have a more unequivocal understanding of the U.S. Constitution.
For four days starting Monday, Sept. 17, the University will hold several Constitution-related events, including evening lectures, student panels and educational films.
While the annual observance of the U.S. Constitution stems from a 2004 federal mandate, the Nevada campus has taken advantage of it as a chance to concurrently study constitutional issues across disciplines.
“I think the campus has embraced it as an opportunity to try to tie curriculum to the Constitution and to present the Constitution as a living document that affects our lives every day,” Neill said. “We’d like to identify current events to help students understand the relationship between the Constitution and what goes on every day.”
The four-day celebration will be highlighted by two nationally prominent guest lecturers: Jay T. Harris, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California and the Wallis Annenberg Chair in Journalism and Communications; and John V. White, dean of UNLV’s Boyd School of Law.
“Jay T. Harris will be talking about freedom of the press issues and the negative impact of editorial control by those that own the media,” Neill said. “I think that’s an important issue for all of us, especially those of us who depend on what we read and hear in the news to determine our views on issues.”
A physics professor for 20 years, Neill only recently became familiar with the United States’ founding document while taking a class on educational law.
“The Constitution clearly has an extremely important place in the history and development of the United States,” he said. “To a certain extent, the history of the United States is almost coined in the Constitution and its amendments. You can see why many of the amendments were needed based on the history of the U.S. There’s a historical context to all of them and I think it’s quite fascinating to look at them.”