State of Democracy

The State of Democracy Lecture Series provides a forum for meaningful discussions of significant public issues - both current and more enduring - which cut across traditional disciplinary boundaries. These discussions enable explorations of real-world challenges and foster continued discussion and debate.

We are fortunate to have one lecture per year sponsored by the Norman M. and Marsha Lee Berkman Fund. Norman M. Berkman is a graduate of Syracuse University (’57) in Political Science. His wife, Marsha Lee, graduated from Northwestern University. They firmly believe that the State of Democracy Lecture Series they sponsor serves as a valuable link in the political discourse between the University and the community, and fosters understanding of significant contemporary issues.

All events begin at 4:00 PM in the Maxwell Auditorium and are followed by an open reception unless otherwise noted and parking is available in the Irving Garage for a small fee. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) will be provided for these lectures. If you require additional accommodations, please call 315-443-9707 or email

"Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights"

Gretchen Sorin

April 16, 2021 | Location to be determined

Gretchen Sorin

Gretchen Sorin, Distinguished Professor at SUNY Oneonta and Director of The Cooperstown Graduate Program, will discuss her new book, "Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights."  The book was also the basis of a major PBS documentary, first airing October 13, 2020, uncovering the history of how the automobile profoundly changed African American life.

Driving While Black Book coverIt’s hardly a secret that mobility has always been limited, if not impossible, for African Americans. Before the Civil War, masters confined their slaves to their property, while free black people found themselves regularly stopped, questioned, and even kidnapped. Restrictions on movement before Emancipation carried over, in different forms, into Reconstruction and beyond; for most of the 20th century, many white Americans felt blithely comfortable denying their black countrymen the right to travel freely on trains and buses. Yet it became more difficult to shackle someone who was cruising along a highway at 45 miles per hour.  In the book, the acclaimed historian reveals how the car―the ultimate symbol of independence and possibility―has always held particular importance for African Americans, allowing black families to evade the many dangers presented by an entrenched racist society and to enjoy, in some measure, the freedom of the open road. Interwoven with Sorin’s own family history and enhanced by dozens of little known images, Driving While Black charts how the automobile fundamentally reshaped African American life, and opens up an entirely new view onto one of the most important issues of our time (

VIRTUAL: Post-Election Panel: What Happened and Why? What Are the Likely Policy Implications?

November 6, 2020

Panelists Include:


Event Archive

VIRTUAL: "Public Service in Ordinary and Extraordinary Moments"

A virtual conversation with Dean David M. Van Slyke

Michael K. Atkinson

October 9, 2020 


Michael Atkinson was the U. S. Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, who was dismissed by President Trump in April 2020.  In September 2019, he alerted Congress to a whistleblower complaint regarding the president’s communications with Ukraine, pressing for an investigation into Joe Biden and his son – the resulting scandal led to President Trump’s impeachment.

Atkinson, a graduate of Syracuse University, served as the presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed Inspector General of the Intelligence Community from May 2018 through May 2020. As the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, Mr. Atkinson oversaw a workforce of special agents, auditors, inspectors, attorneys, and support staff whose mission was to promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in the administration and implementation of programs and activities within the responsibility and authority of the Director of National Intelligence, and to prevent and detect fraud and abuse in such programs and activities.

Prior to his Senate confirmation, Mr. Atkinson worked for the U.S. Department of Justice for over fifteen years. He served as a Trial Attorney in DOJ’s Criminal Division, Fraud Section, from 2002 through 2006. He then served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia from 2006 through 2016, where he was the Acting Chief and Deputy Chief of the Fraud and Public Corruption Section. In 2012, he was awarded the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service for his work on a significant public corruption case. Thereafter, he served in DOJ’s National Security Division as the Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General for National Asset Protection and as Senior Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General.

This lecture is made possible through a generous gift from the Norman M. and Marsha Lee Berkman Fund.

Event Archive

"Making Sense of Impeachment: A Panel Discussion"

November 15, 2019

Shana Gadarian, Political Science; Thomas Keck, Political Science; Sean O'Keefe, Public Administration and International Affairs; and Margaret Thompson, History, will discuss the impeachment of Donald Trump and its broader historical and political context.

This lecture is made possible through a generous gift from the Norman M. and Marsha Lee Berkman Fund

Event Archive

"WE ARE INDIVISIBLE: A Blueprint For Democracy After Trump"

October 11, 2019

Location Change:  Stolkin Auditorium, Physics Building | Reception to follow in the Maxwell School

Ezra Levin is a Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of the Indivisible Project. Along with his co-founder, Leah Greenberg, they have been listed on this years’ Time 100:  The Most Influential People of 2019. The project's mission is to cultivate a grassroots movement of thousands of local Indivisible groups to elect progressive leaders, realize bold progressive policies, and rebuild our democracy. They have a book coming out in November that tells the story of the movement and offers a guide for democracy in the post-Trump era.

"Women in American Politics: 100 Years After Suffrage"

March 1, 2019

One hundred years after winning the right to vote, what are the current opportunities and challenges for women pursuing elected office? What are the roles they play as voters and as leaders of social movements? And what can we expect from the 2020 presidential election cycle, which includes a record number of women candidates? This State of Democracy event features a panel discussion among leading scholars and regional political leaders: Susan Carroll, Professor of Political Science and Senior Scholar at Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics; Joanie Mahoney, Chief Operating Officer at SUNY-ESF and former Onondaga County Executive; and New York State Assemblywoman Pam Hunter. Moderator will be Kristi Andersen, Chapple Family Professor of Citizenship and Democracy Emeritus at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, Cazenovia Town Councilor, and a regular panelist on WCNY’s Ivory Tower.

Event Archive

Susan Carroll headshot

Susan Carroll, Professor of Political Science and Senior Scholar

at Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics

Pamela Hunter head shot

Pamela Hunter, New York State Assemblywoman, 128th District

Joanie Mahoney headshot

Joanie Mahoney, Chief Operating Officer at SUNY-ESF and former Onondaga County Executive

This lecture is made possible through a generous gift from the Norman M. and Marsha Lee Berkman Fund

“Combative Federalism:  Why So Many States Are Suing Trump”

Alan GreenblattAlan Greenblatt, Governing Magazine

November 9, 2018

Alan Greenblatt is a highly respected investigative reporter who covers politics and policy issues for Governing Magazine. His lecture will explore the divide between state and national powers under our current President - as this talk follows the Midterm elections, we will also have the opportunity to discuss the results at a state level.

Event Archive

“The Oath and The Office: A Guide to the Constitution for Future Presidents”

Corey Brettschneider book SODCorey Brettschneider, Professor of Political Science, Brown University  

September 14, 2018

Can the president launch a nuclear attack without congressional approval? Is it ever a crime to criticize the president? Can states legally resist a president’s executive order? Corey Brettschneider dives deep into the U.S. Constitution to answer questions that Americans are asking more than ever before! From the document itself and from history’s pivotal court cases, we learn why certain powers were granted to the presidency, how the Bill of Rights limits those powers, and what “we the people” can do to influence the nation’s highest public office―including, if need be, removing the person in it. Brettschneider breathes new life into the Constitution’s articles and amendments, stressing its key principles and illustrating their relevance to all our lives today. The Oath and the Office empowers readers, voters, and future presidents to read and understand our nation’s founding document. (,

What Really Happened: The Hillary Clinton Campaign, and Its Lessons

Amie Parnes and Jonathan Allen, Authors of Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign

November 3, 2017

ShatteredAmie Parnes is Senior Political Correspondent for The Hill, and a regular CNN political analyst. Jon Allen is a columnist for Roll Call, and an adjunct professor at Northwestern University. Together they wrote the #1 New York Times bestselling story of the Clinton campaign. The two will discuss their experiences covering the 2016 presidential election, speculate about some of the political lessons the election suggests, and reflect on the current political climate.

Farewell Address: The Need for Reflection in a Hot-Take Culture

Mayor Stephanie Miner, City of Syracuse

October 27, 2017

Stephanie Miner is completing her second and final term as Mayor of Syracuse. In this farewell address, she looks back on her tenure, draws lessons learned, and connects those experiences with a broader challenge facing our contemporary political culture.

Rights and Racism: The Complex Legacies of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Lori Ginzberg, Professor of History and Women's Studies, Penn State University

October 6, 2017

Elizabeth Cady StantonRecognizing the centennial of women's suffrage in New York State, Lori Ginzberg will discuss her recent authored book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life. Known as a social activist and American suffragist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton [1815-1902] was a prominent figure in the early women's rights effort.

Professor Ginzberg's lecture will focus on the lessons Elizabeth Cady Stanton's life and work offer for modern feminism and democracy.

This lecture is made possible through a generous gift from the Norman M. and Marsha Lee Berkman fund.

No Slippery Slopes: Same-Sex Couples, Monogamy and the Future of Marriage

Stephen Macedo, Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Politics and University Center for Human Values, Princeton University and author of Just Married: Same-Sex Couples, Monogamy, and the Future of Marriage

March 3, 2017

Will same-sex marriage lead to more radical marriage reform? Should it? Some warn of a dramatically slippery slope from same-sex marriage toward legalizing polygamy and adult incest, and the dissolution of marriage as we know it; others embrace such changes. Professor Macedo argues that both sides are wrong: the same principles of democratic justice that demand marriage equality for same sex couples also lend support to monogamous marriage.

Racial Mobility: The Dynamics of Race and Inequality in the United States

Aliya Saperstein, Professor of Sociology, Stanford University

October 28, 2016

What is it that you know when you know someone’s race? Discussing the specifics makes many Americans uncomfortable, and there is little agreement on what researchers are trying to measure – skin color, ancestry, geography, culture, identity – with those race boxes we regularly ask people to check on forms and in surveys. Nevertheless, most studies of inequality in the United States assume that a person’s race is an input into our stratification system: a static, individual attribute that is ascribed at birth and helps to explain who accrues advantages or disadvantages throughout life. Professor Saperstein’s work demonstrates instead that race is both multi-dimensional and malleable: how Americans see racial difference has been shaped by centuries of discrimination and inequality, so a person’s race does not simply pre-date their upward or downward mobility; how we perceive each other and identify ourselves is also a result of those experiences. This “racial mobility” represents a vicious cycle between racial categorization and inequality that has important implications for both data collection and public policy. 

This lecture is made possible through a generous gift from the Norman M. and Marsha Lee Berkman fund.

Humility in Criminal Justice: What it Would Invite us to Reconsider

Dean Strang, Lawyer

September 9, 2016

As a lawyer for accused murderer and rapist Steven Avery in the hit Netflix documentary series “Making a Murderer,” Dean Strang emerged as one of the heroes of the story.  He will draw on that experience to discuss criminal justice, and will take questions from the audience about the case and the series.

Dean A. Strang is a lawyer in Madison, Wisconsin. In addition to his work as one of Steven Avery's trial lawyers, he is best known for his first book, "Worse Than the Devil: Anarchists, Clarence Darrow, and Justice in a Time of Terror." Mr. Strang served five years as Wisconsin’s first Federal Defender and cofounded StrangBradley, LLC. He is an adjunct professor at Marquette University Law School, the University of Wisconsin Law School, and University of Wisconsin's Division of Continuing Studies. Mr. Strang is a member of the American Law Institute and serves on several charity boards, including the Wisconsin Innocence Project. His second book will be published in early 2018.

Democracy for Realists

Larry Bartels and Chris Achen

April 15, 2016

Larry Bartels joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 2011. He is the Co-Director, Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions and the May Werthan Shayne Chair of Public Policy and Social Science. His scholarly work focuses on public opinion, electoral politics, public policy, and political representation. His 2008 book, Unequal Democracy, appeared on a New York Times list of “economics books of the year” and won the Gladys M. Kammerer Award for the year’s best book on U.S. national policy. He is also the author of Presidential Primaries and the Dynamics of Public Choice (1988), which won the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award for the year’s best book on government, politics, or international affairs, and co-editor of Mass Politics in Tough Times (with Nancy Bermeo, 2014) andCampaign Reform (with Lynn Vavreck, 2000). Bartels has served as vice president of the American Political Science Association and president of its Political Methodology section, chair of the Board of Overseers of the American National Election Studies, and founding director of Princeton University’s Center for the Study of Democratic Politics. He is currently a trustee of the Russell Sage Foundation and an occasional contributor to the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog. In 2014 he received the Warren E. Miller Prize for an outstanding career of intellectual accomplishment and service to the profession in the field of elections, public opinion, and voting behavior. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Political and Social Science, and the National Academy of Sciences.

Chris Achen is the Roger Williams Straus Professor of Social Sciences and Professor of Politics at Princeton University. Achen's research interest is Political Methodology, particularly in its application to empirical democratic theory, American Politics, and International Relations. He is the author of two books, Interpreting and Using Regression and The Statistical Analysis of Quasi-Experiments, co-author of a third, Cross-Level Inference, and co-editor of a fourth book, The European Union Decides. His next book is entitled Voter Turnout in Multi-Level Systems. Professor Achen was the first president of the Political Methodology Section of the American Political Science Association, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received fellowships from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, the National Science Foundation, and Princeton's Center for the Study of Democratic Politics. He received the first career achievement award from The Political Methodology Section of The American Political Science Association in 2007. He is also the recipient of an award from the University of Michigan for lifetime achievement in training graduate students.

From Kandahar to Aleppo: Applying the Lessons of Afghanistan

Robert Grenier

March 4, 2016

A highly decorated twenty-seven year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Clandestine Service and a renowned expert on the Middle East, South Asia, and Counterterrorism, Mr. Grenier played a central leadership role in the greatest national security challenges of his time. When 9/11 struck, he was the CIA’s overseas Chief of Station for Pakistan and Afghanistan. After preparing the original War Plan for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, approved by President George W. Bush on September 24, 2001, Mr. Grenier went on to organize and direct the joint CIA/Special Forces teams which combined with Afghan militias under Hamid Karzai and Gul Agha Shirzai to drive the Taliban and al-Qa’ida from southern Afghanistan.

Later, as the U.S. prepared to invade Iraq, Mr. Grenier was brought back to Washington and named CIA Iraq Mission Manager, responsible for all CIA intelligence operations and analysis in that country, and representing CIA in all White House policy deliberations on Iraq for a two and a half year period. In the final two years of his CIA career, Mr. Grenier was Director of the CIA Counter-Terrorism Center, responsible for all CIA counterterrorism operations around the globe.  In 2006, he retired from CIA and went into the private sector.

Since leaving government, Mr. Grenier has become a recognized expert in global risk management, serving for three years as Chairman for Global Security Consulting at Kroll, Inc.  He is currently Chairman of ERG Partners, an investment bank providing financial advisory services for firms in the Intelligence and Security sector.

While pursuing a business career, Mr. Grenier has appeared widely in both U.S. and international media, including many appearances on ABC, NBC, CBS (including 60 Minutes), CNN, Fox, PBS (including Frontline), NatGeo, History Channel, Smithsonian, NPR, BBC, VOA, CBC, Al Jazeera English, and many others; he also has been interviewed in literally dozens of leading print publications around the world.  In addition, Mr. Grenier has been a featured speaker in the U.S, the Middle East, and India. He has written over 90 Op-Eds for Al Jazeera English, for whom he also has been an on-air political commentator.  His book, 88 Days to Kandahar: A CIA Diary, was published by Simon and Schuster in January, 2015.

This lecture is made possible through a generous gift from the Norman M. and Marsha Lee Berkman fund.