When Franke Wilmer, Montana State University political science professor and head of her department, tells her students that public service is an honor, they know that she is someone who practices what she preaches.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer recently appointed the MSU human rights activist as the head of the Montana Human Rights Commission, which meant that while colleagues were basking on the beaches in southern climes, Wilmer spent her spring break pouring over paper boxes crammed full with notebooks containing case appeals and listening to testimony.
"I'm the sort of person that thinks public service is important when you have the ability and background," said Wilmer, peering over boxes of cases that the commission was set to hear this month. "If the opportunity to serve presents itself, you should take it."
There's circularity in the appointment for Wilmer, a scholar who is an author and an international authority on indigenous people and international human rights. Long before Wilmer became a scholar and before she had written her books on "The Social Construction of Man, the State and War: identity, politics and violence in ex-Yugoslavia" and "The Indigenous Voice in World Politics: Since Time Immemorial" as well as scores of papers, articles and presentations, Wilmer cut her professional teeth as a human rights investigator in North Carolina. With her new appointment, Wilmer will review appeals of reports by human rights investigators and decisions made by hearing examiners in Montana.
Wilmer is believed to be the only MSU professor to be appointed a state post by the new Montana governor.
She said that earlier this year a member of the governor's staff called her and asked her to submit an online application to be a member of the commission. Shortly after she submitted her resume, she received a call confirming her appointment. Later the same day, the governor's office called and said the governor had selected her as chair. Other new appointments included Rabbi Allen Secher of Whitefish and Janine Pease of Billings, vice president for American Indian Affairs at Rocky Mountain College and an MSU graduate.
Wilmer said she was honored that the opportunity presented itself. She is a member of the Gallatin Human Rights Task Force and has served on the Montana Committee for the Humanities. Wilmer also travels throughout the world to speak on the rights of the world's indigenous.
Wilmer said she will step down this summer as chair of the MSU Political Science Department, and hopes to work on several other book proposals, as well as serving on the state Human Rights Commission one day every-other-month.
"I am one of those people who believe that (even) jury duty is an honor, so obviously I'm honored by this," Wilmer said. "Serving on these sorts of committees is what democracy truly is all about."
Written by Carol Schmidt and posted for 3/21/05.