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Professor Focuses on Social Implications of JFK Assassination

November 13, 2013

Laurie Morrissey
Communications and Marketing
(603) 641-7240

A half century after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the tragedy and its dramatic aftermath continue to fascinate the American public, including today's college students. Professor Dennis MacDonald examines the sociological significance and implications of the event in a course called "JKF Assassination and Failure of Institutions."

Professor Dennis MacDonaldIn addition to designing and teaching the course, the professor has invited prominent speakers to campus: historian and author David Wrone and Freedom of Information Act specialist James Lesar. They will offer presentations and join a panel at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics & Political Library Nov. 21 and 22. He also organized a showing of the 1964 political thriller, "Seven Days in May."

The assassination of the 35th president has long interested Professor MacDonald. "It was an earth-shaking event for everyone who was alive at that time," he says. "It was a defining moment in American history which deeply affected the people of this country and the world."

When he became a sociologist, he grew interested the event as an example of the failure of our institutions to function properly. The most basic of those institutions is the political institution, which he refers to as our society's organizing institution, in that it protects our rights and provides for justice to take place.

In the context of the Kennedy assassination, Professor MacDonald says, the executive branch took the lead, and the investigation was a flawed process. The other failed social institutions in this case include the FBI and the Secret Service, two government agencies. 

"Students in this course are intrigued by the 'whodunnit' aspect, although we don't really get into that," MacDonald says. "They are also quite taken with the discrepancies between the Warren Commission Report and the evidence upon which that report is supposedly based. The official pronouncement and the actual evidence don't add up, and this leads to a certain skepticism with respect to official pronouncements. The implications about trusting our institutions are huge. If you don't trust your basic institutions, it's hard to have a society that works."

George Kornack '14, a politics major enrolled in the course, says it is his favorite class this semester and one of the best he has taken at Saint Anselm College.

"We may not be able to prove Kennedy was killed as the result of a conspiracy, but we have been able to examine legitimate evidence that would cause anyone to question the official story," he says.