RINDGE — Starting today, class is in session for Andru Volinsky at Franklin Pierce University.
The former New Hampshire executive councilor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate is the school’s first-ever “civic scholar in residence.” He was set to deliver the first of his three public lectures on the Rindge campus this morning as part of Franklin Pierce’s annual Constitution Day celebration. Next semester, Volinsky will teach an upper-level undergraduate seminar titled “Law and Public Policy for Change.”
“I’m delighted to be in this role and to join Franklin Pierce,” said Volinsky, 65, of Concord. “I’m really looking forward to working with students around a topic that has motivated me for quite some time, which is civic engagement.”
Volinsky, an attorney who still takes on public interest cases through his Chichester-based law firm 160 Law PLLC, said he views this new scholarly position as critically important.
“I think we are about as divided a nation as we could be, and we need to figure out a way to talk with one another, even though we may disagree,” he said. “I think young people in particular have an important perspective that we need to respect. And young people in particular should test their civic muscles, learn how the various community and governmental systems work in our society and figure out how they can play a role, starting in college and hopefully continuing for the rest of their lives.”
Kathryn Grosso Gann, a spokeswoman for the university, which has about 1,200 students and 235 faculty and staff at its Rindge campus, said Volinsky’s position within the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences is one of several scholar-in-residence programs the university plans to create in the years ahead. For example, Franklin Pierce could bring in experts in health care and business for yearlong stints in Rindge, she said.
“So this is just one of many, hopefully, which we’re really excited about,” Grosso Gann said. “And with Andru in particular, what’s really great is because he’ll be here for one year, the fall and the spring, is that he’s really going to become an invested member of our community. And the students are going to have excellent access to really ask questions, seek answers, have open dialogue on topics that I think are really relevant to today.”
In addition to his public events this fall, Volinsky said he has already been invited to give guest lectures in several classes at Franklin Pierce that intersect with his areas of expertise, including criminal justice courses. Volinsky holds a law degree from George Washington Law School in Washington, D.C., and began his career as a public defender in Tennessee and teaching at the University of Tennessee.
Volinsky — who spent four years representing the executive council’s second district, which covers Keene and much of the Monadnock Region — last spoke at Franklin Pierce in February 2020, he said. He talked about the recent death-penalty commutation he had secured for a client in Georgia with whom he has worked for 30 years. At that speaking engagement, Volinsky met Matthew Konieczka, dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences.
“And one thing led to another, and we started talking about what a potential role could be for me as a guest lecturer,” Volinsky said. “And given our mutual interest in civic engagement, this program came to be.”
In a news release announcing Volinsky’s new position at Franklin Pierce, Konieczka said the university is honored to welcome him for the 2012-22 school year.
“Our students will learn greatly from Mr. Volinsky’s breadth of experience as a lawyer, elected official, and advocate as we continue to provide them opportunities to be confident and knowledgeable citizens,” Konieczka said.
Volinsky said his primary goal as Franklin Pierce’s civic scholar in residence is to help students discover the wide variety of ways they can engage with each other and the world around them.
“So, I want the students to understand the opportunities to build community. Sometimes it’s in your backyard, but sometimes it’s across the state,” he said. “... And too often today, there’s not enough focus on seeking a common good. And I would like particularly the students in my seminar to be alert to opportunities and to seek them out.”
His first lecture, “Can the Constitution(s) save the American Dream?” was scheduled for this morning at 11 a.m. in Spagnuolo Hall on the Franklin Pierce University campus and also to be streamed live online. Volinsky said Tuesday that the public event would focus on school funding and public education. The lecture can also be viewed at https://portal.stretchinternet.com/franklinpierceadmin/.
“Hopefully [it] will help people to understand how the U.S. Supreme Court and state supreme court work, and how sometimes decisions issued by those courts are more than a matter of the words on the page, and how they may require all of us to be engaged civically in order to make the words on the page a practical reality,” Volinsky said of his lecture.
He has extensive experience on school funding in New Hampshire and worked as the lead attorney in the 1997 Claremont school-funding case before the state supreme court, which established the state’s duty to fund an adequate public education. The latest legal battle over the state’s school-funding formula, brought by the ConVal School District and joined by 18 other districts statewide, is back in superior court after a state supreme court ruling in March.
Volinsky’s next public lecture, “Are Voting Rights Safe?” is scheduled for Oct. 28. His final speech of the fall semester, the topic of which has not been set, will be Nov. 9.