When planning began for this year’s schedule of Community Connections forums I was very much still entrenched in newspapers and the Burlington Times-News, where I was executive editor for almost 10 years.
A lot can change in a few weeks and months.
That first meeting to plot our fourth year of public conversations about issues was in July, at the Blend and Co. in downtown Burlington. Jon Dooley, Elon’s assistant vice president of student life / dean of campus life, joined us for the first time. Brooke Barnett, Elon’s associate provost for inclusive community and professor of communications, was with us for a second year. Tom Arcaro, a professor of sociology at Elon who was among the planners in 2013 when Elon reached out to the newspaper with an idea for a partnership that would involve the campus and Alamance County community. Jason Husser, a political science professor, head of the Elon Poll and one-time moderator was also there. I was representing the newspaper.
A little more than a month later I would be planning my departure from the newspaper world. As I announced my intention to leave in November, I also let people at the Times-News and Elon know that I would continue to help with Community Connections as long as they wished for me to stay involved and would certainly continue to be an intermediary between the university and newspaper until my replacement as editor was on the job.
So my last official Community Connections forum was in November and the subject was the First Amendment. I wasn’t sure what the future might hold at that time. My plan was to leave newspapers and find something different.
Oddly enough, I landed at Elon University as a writer in Advancement. That doesn’t mean my Community Connections involvement will continue beyond this year, but I’m certainly on board for the last two forums of 2017.
The next one is coming by the way, on Feb. 21. It’ll be at the usual time – 7 to 8:15 p.m., and usual place, the McKinnon Room of the Moseley Center on campus.
The topic should be rockin’. It was chosen by a vote of Times-News readers and Elon students, faculty and staff: The future role of government and the traditional two-party system. It was a subject we discussed back in July when the presidential race was white hot. The topic couldn’t be timelier as a new and controversial president takes office in a cloud of divisiveness, cheers, fear, hope and skepticism.
Confusing? You bet.
I’m very pleased with the panel we have assembled. It includes two of the leading political and government observers in North Carolina who view these matters from very different perspectives. No one could say we’re not bringing balance to the forum.
One of the panelists is Chris Fitzsimon, director of the progressive N.C. Policy Watch, a group that monitors and writes about government, education and politics on all levels, but largely focusing on the state, its actions and leadership. Fitzsimon is a columnist sometimes published in the Times-News and newspapers across the state. This will be his first Community Connections appearance.
John Hood will be making his second visit to Community Connections. He was part of a panel about education a couple of years ago. He is chairman of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank in Raleigh that also produces the Carolina Journal. He is also president of the John William Pope Foundation. He continues to produce a column for the John Locke Foundation that is published in regularly in the Times-News and other N.C. newspapers.
Carrie Eaves rounds out the panel. Eaves is an assistant professor of political science at Elon University and joined us one year in planning Community Connections sessions. This is her first appearance on a panel.
Naeemah Clark, associate professor of Communications at Elon, will reprise her role as moderator, a job she handled with aplomb her first time out in the fall.
The format will remain largely the same. But with three panelists instead of four our experts will have more time to speak and engage with the audience. And with guests like Fitzsimon and Hood on board we expect thought-provoking discussion and debate. And as always, audience members will be able to ask questions.
For those who don’t know, here’s the required background graph: Community Connections is a program kicked off in 2013 as a partnership for the Times-News and Elon to produce enlightening public discussions about important issues in our community and the nation. Previous forums have tackled subjects such as healthcare, poverty, domestic violence, the future of Alamance County, and racism. It’s free and open to the public.
The final forum of 2017 is scheduled for April 11. The topic is still to be determined.
And my future role, too.