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Matthew J. Ryan Center for the Study of Free Institutions and the Public Good Inaugurated on Campus

Contributed By Anthony Maalouf
Constituent Publications, Office of University Communications and Marketing

Villanovans and community members filled the first floor lounge of Falvey Memorial Library to celebrate the opening of the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the Study of Free Institutions and the Public Good on Feb. 21. Named in honor of Villanova alumnus and longtime Pennsylvania state representative Matthew J. Ryan ’54 VSB ’59 VLS, the Center will be based in the Department of Political Science, under the direction of Colleen A. Sheehan, Ph.D., an associate professor of political science.

Ryan served 40 years in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. During his long tenure, Ryan held different leadership positions in the Republican caucus. The House elected him Speaker of the House, a position he held for a term in 1981 to 1983 and again from January 1995 to his death in March 2003. As an elder politician, Ryan believed that a strong educational background in civics was essential to the integrity of the democracy we live in. The Ryan Center at Villanova will provide that civic education for students, faculty, elected officials, and community members.

Sheehan, a former state representative who knew Ryan, welcomed the crowd.

“Matt was a beloved statesman, respected by both sides of the isle. He had a true sense of honor and remained committed to civics,” Sheehan said. Also speaking was the honorable Patricia H. Jenkins ’84 LLM, judge of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas and Ryan’s widow, who thanked Villanova and all those who played a role in bringing the center together.

The opening of the center began with its first sponsored lecture from Dante Scala, Ph.D., ’93 A&S, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. Scala received a bachelor’s degree in political science and honors in 1993 at Villanova before earning a master’s degree and a doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1993 and 2000, respectively. A specialist in presidential politics, he authored Stormy Weather: The New Hampshire Primary and Presidential Politics in 2004.

Speaking on the topic of the 2008 presidential election, he focused on the ongoing race in the Democratic Party between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Since the race began, conventional wisdom was turned on its head, Scala held. In summer 2007, Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign appeared to be finished and Clinton looked like the inevitable Democratic nominee. Since the early primaries, however, both assumptions appear false. The race for delegates, which had been neck-and-neck, was like a tennis match, according to Scala.

“Both candidates had been holding serve, but Wisconsin, where Obama won by 17 points, was a breaking of serve," he observed.

In explaining Obama’s jump to the top, Scala pointed to the resonating message of his campaign, “change, reform, and hope.” Traditional presidential campaigns are won by having large sums of money, momentum, and a strong message. By these means, Sen. Hillary Clinton would be ahead, but in this election year, Scala said, the message is priority.

The outlook for the general election is anything but certain. With eight months left to go to election 2008, Scala was confident that this would be a very different year than the rest. With so much conventional wisdom defied, he concluded that the best way to predict might be to just “say the opposite” of what the pundits say, because so much can change.

The Ryan Center, in conjunction with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, will present another lecture on Tuesday, April 15, at 7 p.m. in Bartley Hall Room 1011. Dr. William J. Dougherty, a professor of political science at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Georgia, will speak on the topic of “freedom and captivity.” Dougherty was one of 52 American diplomatic officials held as hostages in Iran from 1979 to 1981, during the Islamic Revolution.

Please check the Ryan Center web site for more information.

Colleen A. Sheehan, Ph.D., an associate professor of political science and director of the Ryan Center, welcomed Villanovans and community members, many of them alumni. Photo by John Welsh.
Colleen A. Sheehan, Ph.D., an associate professor of political science and director of the Ryan Center, welcomed Villanovans and community members, many of them alumni. Photo by John Welsh.
Conventional wisdom -- on elections -- was turned on its head this year, said Dante Scala, Ph.D., ’93, a presidential politics expert. Photo by John Welsh.
Conventional wisdom -- on elections -- was turned on its head this year, said Dante Scala, Ph.D., ’93, a presidential politics expert. Photo by John Welsh.

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Jennifer Schu

Director of Communications, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

jennifer.schu@villanova.edu

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