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McCourtney Institute Faculty and Staff

Michael Berkman
Director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy and Director of Center for American Political Responsiveness

Michael Berkman (PhD, Indiana University) is a professor in the Department of Political Science and the director of the Center for American Political Responsiveness (CAPR), a center of excellence within the McCourtney Institute for Democracy.  Berkman’s research focuses on American politics, particularly American state politics and policy.  His most recent research, funded by the National Science Foundation, focuses on state Transitional Aid to Needy Families (TANF) programs.  Along with his colleague Eric Plutzer, Berkman has published two books on state education policy: Evolution, Creationism and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms (Cambridge University Press) and Ten Thousand Democracies: Politics and Public Opinion in America's School Districts (Georgetown University Press).  His first book, The State Roots of National Politics: Congress and the Tax Agenda, 1978–1986 (Pittsburgh University Press), looked at how state policies influence national politics.

Christopher Beem

Managing Director

Christopher Beem (PhD, University of Chicago) is managing director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. He is the author or co-editor of five books, including The Necessity of Politics (University of Chicago Press).  His latest book, Democratic Humility: Reinhold Niebuhr, Neuroscience and America’s Political Crisis (Lexington Books, 2015) argues that democracy requires a specific kind of humility to counter our natural inclination to self-delusion and self-righteousness. Before joining the Institute, Beem served as grants and communications manager for Next Door, a nonprofit organization dedicated to early childhood education in Milwaukee’s central city. Before that, he directed the Democracy and Community Program at the Johnson Foundation’s Wingspread Conference Center. 

Bradford Vivian
Director of Center for Democratic Deliberation

Bradford Vivian (PhD, Pennsylvania State University) is an associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences. His research and teaching focuses on theories of rhetoric (or the art of persuasion) and public controversies over collective memories of past events. Vivian is the author of Commonplace Witnessing: Rhetorical Invention, Historical Remembrance, and Public Culture (Oxford University Press), Public Forgetting: The Rhetoric and Politics of Beginning Again (Penn State Press) and Being Made Strange: Rhetoric beyond Representation (SUNY Press). He is also co-editor, with Anne Teresa Demo, of Rhetoric, Remembrance, and Visual Form: Sighting Memory (Routledge). Vivian’s work has also appeared in such journals as the Quarterly Journal of Speech, Philosophy and Rhetoric, Rhetoric and Public Affairs, History and Memory, and Rhetoric Society Quarterly. His honors and awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend and, from the National Communication Association, the James A. Winans-Herbert A. Wichelns Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Rhetoric and Public Address, the Critical/Cultural Studies Division Book of the Year Award, and the Karl R. Wallace Memorial Award.

Eric Plutzer
Director of the Mood of the Nation Poll

Eric Plutzer (Ph.D., Washington University in St. Louis) is Professor of Political Science and Sociology and currently serves as co-editor of the Public Opinion Quarterly, the flagship journal of the American Association for Public Opinion Research.

Plutzer has received grants from the National Science Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, Spencer Foundation, Templeton Foundation and the National Center for Science Education to support research on topics including youth voter turnout, political cleavages and polarization, education policy, gender and politics, and population health.

John Gastil
Senior Scholar

John Gastil served as the inaugural Director of the McCourtney Institute from 2013-2016. He is now the Institute's Senior Scholar. He is also Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts.

John specializes in political deliberation and group decision making. John's work on the Citizens’ Initiative Review has helped evaluate an exciting new form of public deliberation that should improve initiative elections. The Jury and Democracy Project has investigated, and hopefully helped vindicate, the jury system as a valuable civic educational institution. John has assisted with the Cultural Cognition Project in demonstrating the ways in which our deeper values bias how we learn about issues and form opinions. He has authored, co-authored, or edited eight books including Political Communication and Deliberation, The Group in Society, The Jury and Democracy, and Democracy in Motion. John holds a BA in Political Science from Swarthmore College and a Master's and PhD in Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Debra Hawhee
Senior Scholar

Debra Hawhee is McCourtney Professor of Civic Deliberation, Senior Scholar in the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, and Professor of English and Communication Arts and Sciences as well as Director of Graduate Studies in English at Penn State University. She studies and teaches histories and theories of rhetoric with a particular focus on rhetoric's less-than-rational elements. She has written about bodily and material theories of rhetoric, ancient and modern. She is author of Moving Bodies: Kenneth Burke at the Edges of Language, which received the 2010 Diamond Anniversary Book Award from the National Communication Association, as well as Bodily Arts: Rhetoric and Athletics in Ancient Greece. Hawhee is co-author, with Sharon Crowley, of Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, now in its fifth edition. Her latest book Rhetoric in Tooth and Claw: Animals, Language, Sensation, will be published next year by the University of Chicago Press. Her research has received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Spencer Foundation, and Penn State’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities. She has published articles in Rhetorica,Philosophy and Rhetoric, Quarterly Journal of Speech, College English, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Advances in the History of Rhetoric, and College Composition and Communication.

Jenna Spinelle
Communications Specialist

Jenna Spinelle is the Communications Specialist for the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. She is responsible for shaping all of the institute's external communication, including website content, social media, multimedia, and media outreach.

She holds a B.A. in journalism from Penn State and is an adjunct instructor in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. Prior to joining the McCourtney Institute, Spinelle worked in Penn State’s Undergraduate Admissions Office and College of Information Sciences and Technology.

David Randolph
Administrative Assistant

David Randolph is the administrative assistant for the McCourtney Institute for Democracy and its two centers of excellence. He holds a B.S. in Political Science from Truman State University, where he focused on measures of democracy and information technology. As a volunteer, he organized large-scale charity events.

Prior to moving to State College, he served as project manager for a real estate investment firm in St. Louis, Missouri. 


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