It’s entirely possible that no one in Delaware history has done more to inspire others to careers in public service and to civic engagement than Jim Soles, the state’s governor told an audience at the University of Delaware on Tuesday, Oct. 14.
Gov. Jack Markell spoke at the Roselle Center for the Arts on UD’s Newark campus, delivering the fourth annual James R. Soles Lecture on the Constitution and Citizenship to an audience that included numerous colleagues and students of the late professor. Soles, who died in 2010, was a faculty member in the Department of Political Science and International Relations for more than 34 years.
“Jim Soles possessed an extraordinary passion for our democracy,” Markell said. He recognized a few of the distinguished members of the audience — including former Court of Chancery Chancellor William B. Chandler III and the District of Delaware’s Chief U.S. District Court Judge Leonard P. Stark, both UD alumni — as among the many “disciples” whose lives were shaped by Soles’ influence.
Markell recalled his own first meeting with Soles 40 years ago when the professor was waging an unsuccessful campaign to unseat Pete du Pont as Delaware’s U.S. congressman. Markell’s parents hosted a get-together for the candidate at their home in the Windy Hills neighborhood near Newark, he said, and Soles deeply impressed him with his enthusiasm for government service and the process of running for office.
“His life’s work is, I believe, a model for strengthening the democracy that our Constitution created,” Markell said.
Today, he said, the United States faces challenges in maintaining a society where citizens want to participate in democracy, through government service, volunteering, working for community groups and exercising their right to vote. To encourage that civic engagement, Markell cited the areas of education and civil rights as continuing challenges.
Children, from preschool through college, need and deserve quality education, not just to get good jobs but also to participate fully in democracy, Markell said.
He also noted that, while great progress has been made in civil rights, more work must be done to strive for full equality in such areas as the wage gap between men and women, the high unemployment among people with disabilities and recent moves in some states to place more regulations on voting.
Young people still want to serve their communities, Markell said, but the partisanship and gridlock in national politics have discouraged many from considering government service. Still, he cited other times, including the Vietnam War era and the Watergate scandal, when people also had a poor opinion of government.
“I have no doubt that the public’s mindset can change,” he said. “But … It’s going to take all of us” to foster the kind of engaged citizens — people who want “to become part of something bigger than themselves” — that Jim Soles inspired.
About the James R. Soles Citizenship Endowment
Dr. Soles received the University’s Excellence in Teaching Award twice and its Excellence in Advising Award, as well as the University’s Medal of Distinction. He received many honors and recognitions in his distinguished career, but he is still best remembered for his personal dedication to teaching and to his students.
The Soles endowment was established 15 years ago and supports a named professorship, currently held by Joe Pika, and undergraduate citizenship stipends and graduate fellowships. The first stipends were awarded 10 years ago and have since supported nearly 70 undergraduates in summer public service projects in the U.S. and abroad.
To see more about recent recipients and the work they have done, visit this website.
The annual lecture that honors Soles also commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia on Sept. 17, 1787. The lecture is generally held on that anniversary date, but scheduling considerations postponed it this year.
U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, a UD alumnus, delivered the inaugural Soles Lecture in 2011. Other speakers have been U.S. Sen. Tom Carper and U.S. Sen. Chris Coons.