William R. and Linda K. Cotter Discourse and Deliberation Series

The Cotter Discourse and Deliberation Series was established in 1999 to recognize William R. Cotter, Colby’s 18th President, and his wife Linda K. Cotter. William R. Cotter received his undergraduate degree and his law degree at Harvard before striking out in a career in international governance and development. He spent two years in Northern Nigeria as assistant attorney general and crown counsel, served as a White House fellow under Lyndon Johnson, and was the Ford Foundation’s representative to Colombia and Venezuela. 

From 1970 to 1979 he was president of the African-American Institute, a nonprofit organization concerned with African development. 

As Colby’s president from 1979 to 2000, he increased international study opportunities, made significant progress in diversifying the faculty and student body, more than doubled library space, more than doubled the percentage of tenure-track women professors, and helped push Colby higher in the ranks of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges. Cotter led the College through the difficult process of ending the fraternity system, and during his presidency, the endowment increased over fifteen-fold.

Recent Cotter Events

Working to Recognize Wabanaki Tribal Sovereignty: A conversation with tribal and Maine legislative leaders

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

For more than 40 years, legislation in the state of Maine has prevented the Wabanaki Nations — the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Mi’kmaq Nation, Passamaquoddy Tribe, and Penobscot Nation — from exercising their inherent tribal sovereignty.

Please join Maulian Bryant LL.D ’22, Penobscot Nation Ambassador; Aaron Dana, Passamaquoddy Tribal Representative to the Maine House of Representatives; Rachel Talbot Ross, Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives (D-Portland); and Rick Bennett, Maine State Senator (R-Oxford) as they discuss how this has resulted in decades of social and economic impacts to the Wabanaki people and how they are building a movement for tribal sovereignty in Maine.

Learn more about this issue, the history of Wabanaki sovereignty in Maine, and the unique and precedent-setting approaches the Maine legislature and Wabanaki tribal leaders are using to address both by visiting the website for the Wabanaki Alliance.


Is the Era of Big Government Over, or Is It Just Beginning?

November 17, 2022

Over the past three years, Americans have witnessed a profound change in the size and scope of government not seen in decades: public-health mandates, direct cash payments to individuals, growing divisions between “red” and “blue” states, and trillions of dollars in new spending. While not perfect, many look back and see evidence that government works, that it can be made to work better, and that the time has finally come to redefine Americans’
relationship with public authority in a country long skeptical of “big” government. Others have taken the opposite lesson: experts got more wrong than they did right, because they are apt to usually get it wrong; massive spending continues to create moral hazard in the marketplace; big government is a root cause of the country’s deepening political divisions.

What does “good government” look like in an era of growing inequality and social division? What lessons should we take from the last few years in redesigning government programs? Can we fix government, or is it doomed to repeat its mistakes?

The fall Cotter Debate will bring to campus two leading thinkers to discuss both sides of this issue, to reflect on Americans changing relationship with government, and to consider what should be done to make it work better. Megan McArdle is a Washington Post columnist who writes regularly on issues related to government policy, finance, and the economy. The author of The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success, she has also written for The Atlantic, Newsweek, The Daily Beast, and Bloomberg View. Donald Moynihan is the McCourt Chair at the McCourt School of Public Policy, where he co-directs the “Better Government Lab.” His research has informed key policymakers from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to the United Nations, and was cited in both President Obama’s and President Biden’s budget

The debate will be moderated by Nicholas Jacobs, assistant professor of government at Colby.

Fed Up: Should the Federal Reserve be responsible for addressing economic inequality?

October 28, 2021

The Federal Reserve, one of the nation’s most important institutions, is essential for economic stability. It has held a particularly critical role in protecting our economy during the pandemic. Some feel, though, that recent interventions by the Fed have been too aggressive and politicized and that the central bank mandate should not expand beyond monetary and regulatory policies. The pandemic exacerbated inequalities, especially among more marginalized populations, but is it the role of the Fed to address such inequities? How can this powerful independent institution be best utilized to create economic stability for all Americans? 
The fall Cotter Debate will bring to campus two experts to discuss both sides of this issue. Karen Petrou is the co-founder and managing partner at Federal Financial Analytics and author of Engine of Inequality: The Fed and the Future Wealth of America. Paul Wachtel is a professor of economics in the Stern School of Business at New York University. The debate will be moderated by Rob Lester, associate professor of economics at Colby.
The event is in-person for Colby students, faculty, and staff. 
Karen Petrou

Should Supreme Court Justices have term limits?

February 25, 2021

Each year the Cotter Debate Series brings experts to campus that are at the forefront of their fields with the goal of debating pertinent topics to the United States and beyond. This year the focus fell on the Supreme Court of the United States and whether or not its judges should have term limits imposed upon their tenure on the bench. Suzanna Sherry, a professor of Law at Vanderbilt University, has written extensively on the Supreme Court (read her article, “Our Kardashian Court, and How to Fix it”), and argued for the merits of lifetime appointments for our highest court. Ilya Shapiro, the director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute, took the opposing position, informed by his research for his most recent publication, Supreme Disorder: Judicial Nominations and the Politics of America’s Highest Court (2020). Our two debaters joined us via Zoom which allowed for our audience members to actively participate in the debate with their submitted questions, despite the need for social distancing precautions.

Over the course of an hour, guided by questions posed by student-moderator Andrew Ordentlich ’22, our two experts discussed a range of problems facing the Supreme Court today, including the partisan divide in nominations and confirmations, the impact of the two types of constitutional reading (originalists and textualists), the over professionalization of judicial nominations, and the contentious proposal of packing the court.  During their lively back and forth, Professor Sherry and Mr. Shapiro shared many moments of consensus, both acknowledging that while the Supreme Court is a vital part of our checks and balances system, it has fallen victim to, at least in part, the partisan politics plaguing the rest of our country’s institutions.

Previous Cotter Events

Working to Recognize Wabanaki Tribal Sovereignty: A conversation with tribal and Maine legislative leaders (October 3, 2023)

Maulian Bryant, LL.D. ’22, Penobscot Nation Ambassador

Aaron Dana, Passamaquoddy Tribal Representative to the Maine House of Representatives

Rachel Talbot Ross, Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives (D-Portland)

Rick Bennett, Maine State Senator (R-Oxford)

Is the Era of Big Government Over, or Is It Just Beginning? (November 17, 2022)

Megan McArdle, Columnist with the Washington Post

Donald Moynihan, McCourt Chair at the McCourt School of Public Policy

Fed Up: Should the Federal Reserve Be Responsible for Addressing Economic Inequality? (October 28, 2021)

Karen Petrou, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Federal Financial Analytics

Paul Wachtel, Professor of Economics, Stern School of Business, New York University

Should Supreme Court Justices Have Term Limits? (February 25, 2021)

Suzanna Sherry, Herman O. Loewenstein Professor of Law, Vanderbilt University Law School

Ilya Shapiro, Director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies, Cato Institute

Can UBI (Universal Basic Income) Contribute to Decreasing Inequality in the US?” (November 20, 2019)

Michael Strain, American Enterprise Institute

Amy Castro Baker, Professor, University of Pennsylvania

Can our Institution Respond to Current Threats to American Democracy? (October 28, 2019)

Bruce Cain, Charles Louis Ducommun Professor in Humanities and Sciences, Stanford University

David Brady, Bowen H. & Janice Arthur McCoy Professor in Leadership Values, Stanford University

Trade Wars (October 18, 2018)

Soumaya Keynes, the U.S. economics and trade editor for The Economist
Dean Baker, Senior Economist and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)                      

Free Speech on College Campuses: Should There Be Any Limits? (November 16, 2017)

Jon A. Shields, associate professor of Government, Claremont McKenna College
Laura Beth Nielsen, director of the Legal Studies Program and professor of Sociology, Northwestern University
Jon Zimmerman, professor of history of education, University of Pennsylvania
Moderated by Neil Gross, professor of Sociology, Colby College

American Democracy? (March 29, 2017)

Benjamin Page, Gordon Scott Fulcher Professor of Decision Making, Northwestern University; author of Democracy in America? What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It (Forthcoming).
Roslyn Fuller, scholar; author of Beasts and Gods: How Democracy Changed Its Meaning and Lost Its Purpose (2015)
Peter Levine, associate dean and Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Tufts University; author of We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: The Promise of Civic Renewal in America (2013)

Genetically Modified Foods: Perils and Promises (Nov. 8, 2015)

Stephen Moose, Professor of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois
Judith Chambers, Ph.D., director, Program for Biosafety Systems International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Washington, D.C.
Jonathan Latham, co-founder, and executive director, Bioscience Resource Project
Jodi Koberinski, 2015 Oak Human Rights Fellow at Colby




Hydraulic Fracking: Economic Boon or Natural Disaster?

Timothy Carr, West Virginia University
Jessica Helm, the Sierra Club
Erin Mansur ’95, Tuck Business School, Dartmouth College

Foreign Aid and the Environment (Nov. 10, 2011)

Nigel Purvis, president, Climate Advisers and nonresident senior fellow at The Brookings Institution
James Roberts, a research fellow for Economic Freedom and Growth, The Heritage Foundation

Social Security Financing for the Future (Apr. 3, 2011)

Henry Aaron, senior fellow and Bruce and Virginia MacLaury Chair in Economic Studies, The Brookings Institution
Stuart Butler, distinguished fellow, and director, Center for Innovation Policy, The Heritage Foundation

The Amethyst Initiative: The Legal Drinking Age in America (Oct. 29, 2009)

David Rosenbloom, president and CEO, National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University
John McCardel, president, Choose Responsibility

Whose Interests Does Academic Freedom Protect in the Age of the Internet? The Individual or the Institution? (Apr. 27, 2008)

Robert O’Neil, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression at the University of Virginia, and former president of the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin
William L. Thro, university counsel and assistant professor of government at Christopher Newport University, and former solicitor general of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Healthcare Reform in America (Apr. 27, 2008)

Michael F. Cannon, director of health studies at the Cato Institute
Dr. Hugh Waters, associate professor of international health development, Johns Hopkins Blomberg School of Public Health

Urban Transportation Policy (Oct. 8, 2007)

Todd Littman, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for Protection of Free Expression and an authority on the 1st Amendment.
Sam Staley, university council and assistant professor of government at Christopher Newport University

The People, The President, and The War: Who is in Charge? (Nov. 29, 2006)

Jeff Selinger, a Ph.D. candidate in government, Cornell University
Chris Appel ’07 and Ralph Kettell ’07, Colby College

Maine Ballot Question I: ‘Do you want to reject the new law that would protect people from discrimination in employment, housing, education, public accommodations and credit based on their sexual orientation?’ (Nov. 2, 2005)

Michael Health, Maine Christian Civic League
Ted O’Meara, Maine Won’t Discriminate

Balance Between Effective Policy and Human Rights Concerns When Battling Terrorism (Apr. 14, 2005)

Rand Beers, former White House counter-terrorism adviser
Margaret Crahan, Dorothy Epstein Professor of Latin American History at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.
Jack Devine, Center Intelligence Agency (ret.)
Joseph Saunders, deputy program director, Human Rights Watch

Privatization of Social Security (Apr. 3, 2005)

Laurence Kotlikoff, professor of economics, Boston University
Steven A. Sass, associate director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College and author of The Promise of Private Pensions (Harvard University Press, 1997)