Encouraging a More Engaged Citizenry

Latest book by Professor of Political Science Rob Baker seeks to strengthen American democracy

As challenges to democracy persist nationally and globally, Rob Baker, Wittenberg University professor of political science, is taking steps to encourage citizens to aspire toward a better, more “perfect union,” in his latest book, Strengthening American Democracy: Reflection, Action, and Reform.

Baker book“The book takes as a given that our democracy, like so many around the world, is experiencing serious challenges from authoritarian and anti-democratic forces (what scholars refer to as ‘democratic deconsolidation’) and it aims to combat this disturbing trend by offering citizens tools to engage in, and aspire toward, a more responsible and accountable democracy,” Baker said.

The 192-page book, available in both digital and print formats from Broadview Press, features 46 brief and accessible articles that outline institutional, structural, process-oriented, and policy-related challenges to American democracy. In most cases, specific proposals for reform are discussed, encouraging the reader to think about how to make tangible progress toward a “more perfect union.”

Scott R. Meinke from Bucknell University’s department of political science is among many who have endorsed the book.

“Baker highlights the conflict between democratic ideals and the present reality of American politics, yet this is not a pessimistic book,” said Meinke, adding that he “asks Americans to think about what can and should be changed in the political system—and in our individual actions and attitudes—to bring about better and more democratic politics.”

Wayne Barnett, executive director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, also praised the book, noting that “Baker has crafted a series of brief, engaging essays that encourage readers to engage in lively, thoughtful conversations that take them to the heart of what ails our polity. Organized around the principle that we must reclaim spaces for reasoned discussion among people who hold a variety of views, this book helps show the way to a brighter future where we can better communicate with each other despite our differences.”

Additionally, Brianna N. Mack, in Ohio Wesleyan University’s department of politics and government, said of Baker’s work: This is “a book I can use to structure my classroom discussions on the future of America’s democracy and how my students can help keep it afloat.”

This latest release marks Baker’s fifth book. His last book, Government in the Twilight Zone, was released in 2015 through SUNY Press. The Lanahan Readings in State and Local Government was published in its first edition in 2001 with a revised and expanded second edition in 2010, and Readings on American Subnational Government was published in 1993 by HarperCollins.

Wittenberg’s department of political science will host a book launch event for Baker on Wednesday, Sept. 4, at 4:30 p.m., in Hollenbeck Hall’s Ness Auditorium.

A prolific contributor to professional journals and other media outlets, Baker joined the Wittenberg faculty in 1987 and has been recognized widely in his nearly 37-year tenure. In 2011, he earned the top faculty prize, the Alumni Association Award for Distinguished Teaching. He is also the recipient of the 1990 Omicron Delta Kappa Award for Excellence in Teaching and the 2012-2013 and 2005-2006 Melvin Laatsch Faculty Scholar Award. In 2015, he was awarded a Voinovich Fellowship from the George Voinovich Foundation. He was also selected to teach American Urban Governance in the International Summer Session at Fudan University, Shanghai, PRC, in July 2015.

Baker holds a B.A. from Central Methodist University, which named him the recipient of its Young Alumni Award in 1994. He also holds an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Missouri. In 2010-11 he served as the interim faculty director for Wittenberg’s Hagen Center for Civic and Urban Engagement, and as the director of community-based research at the Hagen Center from 2011-2013. Moreover, from 1996-2003, he chaired Wittenberg’s department of political science, and from 1994-1996, he served as director of the University’s urban studies program.

In preparation for the 2024 presidential election, Baker will also be part of an upcoming citizens' civic education series, titled “Community Conversations: Building and Strengthening Civic Friendships” to be hosted by the Springfield Museum of Art and directed by Kerry Pedraza, executive director of the United Way. This series is the brainchild of one of Baker’s former students, Tracy Tackett, Wittenberg class of 2021, who is a current Springfield city commissioner.

Open to Springfield-area residents, the series will feature approximately six sessions, each being 60 to 90 minutes in length leading up to the start of early voting for the November election. All sessions will take place on Monday evenings beginning July 15 at 5:30 p.m. and will include an interactive lecturing format, with suggested readings as background and plenty of opportunity for discussion. Dates of the events are July 15 and 29, August 12 and 26, and September 9 and 23. Other Wittenberg professors will also be presenting, including Staci Rhine, professor of political science; Julius Bailey, professor of philosophy; and Tom Taylor, professor of history.

Livestreaming discussions are also underway, as well as planning around social media engagement.

Sponsors for the event include Wittenberg University and the Hagen Center for Civic and Urban Engagement, Cox First Media/Springfield News-Sun, the Springfield Foundation, the Crabill Family Foundation, the United Way of Clark, Champaign & Madison Counties, Seventh Wing Creative, Live from Springfield, USA, and the Springfield Museum of Art. With the goal of breaking down partisan barriers and learning more about what it means to be a good citizen, several Clark County community organizations will be involved in the series that will be led by experts in political science, history, and philosophy.

Baker said the whole idea is founded upon what Greek philosopher Aristotle referred to as “civic friendships,” which says that we are in it together as a community and also need to be open to others’ concerns and disagreements while being willing to work through them.

Pedraza said the sessions are designed to be both educational and participatory, and several round tables will be set up to facilitate discussion. Light snacks and refreshments will be available, and doors will open at 5 p.m. with sessions beginning at 5:30 p.m. Learn more about the series here.

A former assistant to the city manager and acting city manager of Slater, Missouri, early in his career, Baker previously founded and co-directed the Wittenberg Local Government Management Internship Program, which was awarded a special citation as an innovative educational program by the International City/County Management Association in 2005. His research interests include challenges to democracy, state bureaucratic rulemaking, American state political culture, urban neighborhood associations, urban administration, and the role of boards and commissions in governance, particularly in smaller urban communities.

Baker has also been active in local community leadership positions, having served as a member and chair of the Community Advisory Review Board, co-chair of the Clark County Partnership for Success Strategic Planning Process, a member of the Health Districts Consolidation Committee, and vice president of the Clark County Combined Health District Board. His greatest passion is for Springfield’s Rocking Horse Community Health Center, which serves over 12,000 at-risk children and adults who otherwise would not receive primary health care. He was not only the president and founding board member of the center in 1997, but he continued to serve in various leadership positions for 20 years, before stepping down in 2017, at which point the Center’s Board voted unanimously to name the board room in his honor.

In 2005 he chaired the committee that led the organization’s transition to Federally Qualified Health Care Status, which brought millions of federal dollars into the community. For that leadership effort, he was named a Community Health Center Hero in 2009 by the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers. As a result of these and other contributions to the larger Springfield community, Baker was honored with Wittenberg’s Outstanding Service to Springfield Award in 2004.

Cindy Holbrook
Cindy Holbrook
Senior Communications Assistant

About Wittenberg

Wittenberg's curriculum has centered on the liberal arts as an education that develops the individual's capacity to think, read, and communicate with precision, understanding, and imagination. We are dedicated to active, engaged learning in the core disciplines of the arts and sciences and in pre-professional education grounded in the liberal arts. Known for the quality of our faculty and their teaching, Wittenberg has more Ohio Professors of the Year than any four-year institution in the state. The university has also been recognized nationally for excellence in community service, sustainability, and intercollegiate athletics. Located among the beautiful rolling hills and hollows of Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg offers more than 100 majors, minors and special programs, enviable student-faculty research opportunities, a unique student success center, service and study options close to home and abroad, a stellar athletics tradition, and successful career preparation.

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