Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Descriptions

GLS 592: This Property is Condemned: Eminent Domain vs. the American Dream

Instructor: Anne Russell

wilmington baby hospital

The Wilmington "Baby Hospital"
(from Wilmington, A Pictorial History, p239)
by permission of the author, Anne Russell

Government intrusion into citizens' right to use our private property is reaching crisis proportions. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution and the 1860s Homestead Act have given way to expanding powers of zoning boards, public commissions, city councils, and homeowners' associations to deprive property owners of use of our own property according to our own desires. Across the country, David vs. Goliath lawsuits pit private citizens against municipalities, and blur the line between what constitutes a capitalist state or a communist state. Stephen Greenhut's Abuse of Power describes the current situation, and the film House of Sand and Fog dramatically depicts the dilemma. How do we fulfill our human need for our own private space while acting in the best interest of our collective society?

Written Assignments

  1. An essay on the concept of the American Dream as it relates to the human desire for a "room of one's own," and the constitutional protection of private property ownership.
  2. An analysis of a literary work which expresses the value of a homeplace, or the experience of homelessness, from a psychosocial perspective.
  3. An abbreviated case study of one of the current eminent domain lawsuits.
  4. A brief which presents an argument for or against the expansion of governmental interference with private property rights, utilizing the concepts and information contained in the first three papers.

Speaking Opportunities

  • A panel discussion
  • Small group discussions
  • A debate
  • Presentation of briefs
  • A dramatic reading

Texts: (Fall 2005)

Required - Stephen Greenhut's Abuse of Power
Other Primary Source: Public Power, Private Gain, Dana Berliner, Institute for Justice, April 2003:
Prolog to James Agee's A Death in the Family
Robert Frost's The Death of the Hired Man
House of Sand and Fog, a film
Martin Luther King's The American Dream speech
Anne Russell's The Porch, a one-act play
John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath
Alex de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, Chapter Fifteen
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
"Right to Private Property," The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Second Treatise of Government, John Locke
Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Karl Marx

Attendance Policy

I hope you will be present at each class meeting. If you must be absent, I trust you find this necessary. Exception: If you are scheduled to make a presentation that evening, you will only be excused because of emergency, and you will receive credit for the work only when we have arranged a makeup assignment. The class is as good as the students who participate. Most likely, your grade will be related to the degree of your participation.

Open Discussion

Intellectual exchange will be free and open. Differing points of view are welcome as a learning tool. Personal Attacks, however (Rush Limbaugh style) will not be tolerated. While I have my own points of view which I may from time to time share with you, the purpose of this course is not to promote a particular point of view, but to engage in civilized discourse which informs so that we may draw our own conclusions.

Last Update:February 10, 2008