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About the McCourtney Institute

Mission and Vision

In the United States, Europe and indeed all around the world, there are troubling indicators about the theory and practice of democracy. Against this background, the importance of Penn State’s McCourtney Institute for Democracy has never been more critical.

The Institute’s mission is to promote scholarship and practical innovations that defend and advance democracy in the United States and abroad. Through teaching, research, and public outreach, the Institute leverages the resources of Penn State to foster a model of deliberation, policymaking, and responsiveness that is at once passionate, informed, and civil.

We achieve our mission through interdisciplinary scholarship. The Institute operates through two centers—the Center for Democratic Deliberation (CDD) and the Center for American Political Responsiveness (CAPR). The CDD attends to the communication practices that make democratic deliberation possible, whereas CAPR addresses the way that governments translate citizen demands into public policy.


The McCourtney Institute for Democracy began as the Democracy Institute in 2012. In 2014, Tracy and Ted McCourtney gave a transformative $3 million gift to secure the Institute's future.

John Gastil served as the Institute's founding director from 2012-2016. Mark Major served as associate director. Christopher Beem was hired as managing director in 2015 and Michael Berkman became director in 2016.

The Center for Democratic Deliberation was founded in 2006 as nonpartisan, interdisciplinary center for research on issues of rhetorical education, democratic deliberation, and forms of dissent.

The Center for American Political Responsiveness was founded in 2011 as an interdisciplinary academic center that investigates questions of democratic governance and public policy.