Expert Panelists from SUNY Orange, SUNY New Paltz and FDR Library to Join Local Politicians

MIDDLETOWN, N.Y. -- With support from a New York Council for the Humanities grant, a group of regional political scientists, educators and historians will join local politicians in eight upcoming “Fireplace Lounge Chats,” a series of expert-led discussions on civility and democracy in America that will feature representatives from local colleges, area high schools, county legislatures and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.

With the 2012 presidential election cycle under way and America’s political climate growing seemingly more contentious and discourteous, the series of “Fireplace Lounge Chats” will examine the question of civility in American political discourse. Panelists will explore whether statesmanship truly is in decline, has become a casualty of shifting notions of community which emphasize division over unity, or whether the heated tone of our current political culture is just a natural manifestation, or even healthy and vital component, of a long-standing democratic tradition.

The series of panels, funded by a $3,000 grant from the N.Y. Council for the Humanities, will circulate among four sites, with each location hosting a pair of sessions between now and mid-May. SUNY Orange will host two panels each at its Middletown and Newburgh campuses, while SUNY New Paltz and the Roosevelt Library will each hold a pair of events as well. The kickoff chat will feature a discussion of the Culture Wars at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 22 in Kaplan Hall on SUNY Orange’s Newburgh campus.

The roster of panelists, who will rotate among discussions and locations, includes: Alice Andrews, professor of psychology, SUNY New Paltz, and activist with the New Paltz Government Efficiency Project; Paul Basinski, chair of the Global Studies Department, SUNY Orange; Jeffrey Berkman, Orange County Legislator; Bob Clark, supervisory archivist, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum; Gregory Geddes, history professor, SUNY Orange; Dan Lipson, assistant professor of political science, SUNY New Paltz; Richard Mayfield, director of operations for Orange County; Michael McCoy, assistant professor of history; SUNY Orange; Roy Paul, political commentator/analyst and former member of the Middletown School Board; Hector Rodriguez, Ulster County Legislator; Robert Sassi, social studies teacher, Valley Central High School; George Stevens, professor of history; Dutchess Community College; and Elaine Torda, associate professor of English and Honors Program coordinator, SUNY Orange.

The concepts of civility and democracy will be addressed through a non-partisan examination of three controversial issues in recent American history: The FDR Presidency, The Civil Rights Movement and the Culture Wars. Discussions will cross the political science and history disciplines, framing each issue within its own historical context while examining its impact on today and into the future.

The moderator of each session will begin the event by posing a series of questions that the panelists will address in brief opening remarks. Interactive discussion among the panelists will delve more deeply into the topic, and a lively audience exchange is expected to follow. The sessions are scheduled to last approximately 90 minutes.

The title of “Fireplace Lounge Chats” was jointly inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats and the Fireplace Lounge on SUNY Orange’s Middletown campus. When FDR became president in 1933, he believed that the best way to comfort and inform the public about his administration and its policies was to address them on the radio. He considered it most effective to talk to the people as if he had joined them in their living rooms or kitchens for a relaxed, informal conversation about one or two specific topics.

The term “Fireside Chat” was not coined by Roosevelt, but rather was used by a reporter to describe FDR’s speech of May 7, 1933. The term was quickly adopted throughout the media and by FDR. He delivered more than 30 chats throughout his presidency, two of which were broadcast from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park.

The “Fireplace Lounge” at SUNY Orange is a key gathering place inside the George F. Shepard Student Center on the Middletown campus where all facets of the College community gather for studying, quiet discussion, peaceful introspection, presentations and public events.

For more information on the Fireplace Lounge Chats program, contact Paul Basinski, chair of the SUNY Orange Global Studies Department, at (845) 341-4828.

The 2012 Fireplace Lounge Chats schedule is as follows (locations and times included where possible, others to be announced at a later date):

Culture Wars, Wed., Feb. 22, 7 p.m., SUNY Orange Newburgh Campus
Panelists: Alice Andrews, Richard Mayfield, Robert Sassi; Moderator: Paul Basinski

FDR Presidency, Wed., Feb. 29, 7 p.m., SUNY Orange Newburgh Campus
Panelists: Paul Basinski, Robert Sassi, George Stevens; Moderator: Bob Clark

Civil Rights, Wed., March 14, SUNY New Paltz
Panelists: Michael McCoy, Roy Paul, Elaine Torda; Moderator: Dan Lipson

Culture Wars, Wed., March 28, SUNY New Paltz
Panelists: Paul Basinski, Hector Rodriguez; TBA; Moderator: Dan Lipson

Civil Rights, Wed., April 11, FDR Library
Panelists: Gregory Geddes, Roy Paul, Elaine Torda; Moderator: Michael McCoy

Culture Wars, Wed., April 18, SUNY Orange Middletown Campus
Panelists: Jeffrey Berkman, Robert Sassi, TBA; Moderator: Paul Basinski

FDR Presidency, Wed., April 25, FDR Library
Panelists: Paul Basinski, Gregory Geddes, Hector Rodriguez; Moderator: Bob Clark

Civil Rights, Wed., May 2, SUNY Orange Middletown Campus
Panelists: Michael McCoy, Roy Paul, Robert Sassi; Moderator: Elaine Torda

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Mike Albright
Communications Officer
115 South Street
Middletown, NY 10940