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Professor launches radio show on Constitution

Stewart Harris

02/28/11

ASL professor Stewart Harris has created a radio program on the U.S. Constitution that airs each week on East Tennessee State University's public radio station, WETS-FM. Harris also hosts the program, called "Your Weekly Constitutional," each Tuesday at 8 p.m. Podcasts of the show are available here, and recent episodes are available for online listeners at the bottom of this page.

The program is meant to boost public knowledge of the Constitution, Harris said, and "discuss current events that involve the Constitution in an entertaining and informative fashion." The first program, which aired March 1, tackled states' rights to secede from the U.S. Other topics will include the mosque debate in New York City, eminent domain, and the nation's first president, George Washington.

Harris was inspired to pitch the program after seeing an article about programming changes at WETS. Station manager Wayne Winkler liked the idea so much, Harris said, that he's become the show's producer.

While the Constitution is a complex topic, making it more digestible for the public isn't hard, Harris said. "It's what I do every day in class. Remember, law students are members of the public, too. I find that the most effective way to teach them is to use relevant, entertaining anecdotes ... The same principle applies on the radio. First and foremost, you must engage your audience."

One way he hopes to do that is by discussing current events that have constitutional implications, like the debate over the constitutionality of health care legislation. "Lots of people have strong opinions on the subject, but I wonder how many of those people have actually read the Constitution, let alone studied the more than 200 years of interpretation that have followed," he said. "Opinions are fine - the First Amendment protects them. But I prefer informed opinions."

Though he's used to a more tangible audience during classes at ASL, Harris said he imagines that he's "just talking to someone sitting across the table" during broadcasts. "On the other hand, conducting an interview over the phone requires some skill, which I'm still acquiring. It's hard not to interrupt someone when you have no visual cues."

While he ultimately hopes the show fulfills its primary purpose -- helping the public learn about the Constitution -- "I certainly won't mind if the show raises ASL's profile, especially here in central Appalachia." ASL "was founded to serve this region. (The show) is simply one more way to serve."