The Center for Constitutional Studies, located on the fourth floor of the Hibbard Humanities Hall, will be gifted $3 million dollars over the next five years by the Menard family to promote student research.
The research center, now called the Menard Center for Constitutional Studies, will use the donation to offer new opportunities students never had previously, hire new faculty and embark on a whole new survey project.
This survey project is aimed at gaining national attention, Geoff Peterson, chair of the political science department said.
“More faculty provides more opportunities for students to participate in collaborative research, period,” Peterson said.
Because of the increased faculty, students will have connections to a wide variety of scholars and subjects that they otherwise would never have been exposed to, Peterson said.
This allows students to expand their networks and participate in not only individual research, but collaborative research as well.
The people who benefit most from the donation are the students, Eric Kasper, a political science professor and director of the Menard Center said.
“If students are interested in studying civil liberties and civil rights, there are going to be a lot of opportunities coming up here in the next few years,” Kasper said.
Once key faculty are hired and programs and research are put in place, they will be able to see where student interests lie, what kinds of research they want and types of coursework they would most enjoy, Kasper said.
These things will be arranged sometime next year, Peterson said. The Menard Center has not been in use this year due to COVID-19, which means students have not been able to use it for conducting research.
Because of the donation, the department began designing a survey center for a large-scale research project they will be conducting, he said.
According to Peterson, the Political Research Institute within the political science department will be creating a survey at the regional and state levels, with the potential of reaching the national level.
The first big focus, Peterson said, is the Civil Liberties Scorecard, which is a survey to gauge how much people know about their civil liberties. Peterson recognizes the press will pick up on it, but its intent is to be used by educators.
“We can look at this and say people understand this part of the first amendment but they don’t understand that part of the first amendment,” Peterson said.
It will be up to the students to determine how the money will shape the future of the Menard Center and student research, Kasper said. He also said student interest in research seems to be increasing due to the current political climate.
“The gift comes at a very opportune time for us to be able to give more of those educational opportunities to our students,” Kasper said.
Kim Way, president of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, said she cannot speak for exactly what prompted the Menard family to donate to the political science department, but she said many in the Menard family have attended UW-Eau Claire.
Way said the foundation works with donors on a daily basis and oftentimes they take a particular interest in funding a project or program.
“We are very grateful for the Menard family and their generosity,” Way said.
Plueger can be reached at [email protected].