The 2020 Champlain Institute
November 3 — What’s at Stake?

Monday, July 27-Friday, July 31, 2020 *

* College of the Atlantic is closely monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak and C.D.C. recommendations on large gatherings. We have an amazing slate of thought provoking lectures, conversations, film screenings, and other events planned for this upcoming summer and maintain hope that we will all be able to gather safely on Mount Desert Island in a few months. Although there are no immediate plans to postpone or cancel the Champlain Institute, Coffee and Conversation, or any of our other summer events, we are actively making contingency plans to offer our lectures and Institute sessions via livestream should that be necessary. We will communicate any changes to the events on the COA website and via email.

The Champlain Institute is a week-long ideas festival which hosts leaders from around the country and the world to share their expertise on pressing issues of our time. The focus of the 2020 Institute will be November 3 — What’s at Stake? During the week, we will explore the future of US diplomacy, climate change policy, income inequality, national security, the Second Amendment, the Supreme Court, and other issues that will be critical national topics leading up to the presidential elections next November.

Please check this page for more details as they are announced. The Champlain Institute is free and open to the public, but registration is required and will open in May. 

We look forward to you joining in the conversation this summer.  

For more information, please contact Wes Norton at 207-801-5627 or Lynn Boulger at 207-801-5620 .

Bryn Mooser, Susan Sarandon, Darron Collins

2020 Speakers

Capitol Steps

Capitol Steps

The Capitol Steps began as a group of Senate staffers who set out to satirize the very people and places that employed them. The group was born in December, 1981 when some staffers for Senator Charles Percy were planning entertainment for a Christmas party. Their first idea was to stage a nativity play, but in the whole Congress they couldn’t find three wise men or a virgin. So, they decided to dig into the headlines of the day, and they created song parodies & skits which conveyed a special brand of satirical humor. In the years that followed, many of the Steps ignored the conventional wisdom (“Don’t quit your day job!”), and although not all of the current members of the Steps are former Capitol Hill staffers, taken together the performers have worked in a total of eighteen Congressional offices and represent 62 years of collective House and Senate staff experience.

Since they began, the Capitol Steps have recorded over 35 albums, including their latest, The Lyin’ Kings. They’ve been featured on NBC, CBS, ABC, and PBS, and can be heard twice a year on National Public Radio stations nationwide during their Politics Takes a Holiday radio specials.

Judge Douglas Ginsburg

Douglas Ginsburg

Douglas H. Ginsburg is a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to which he was appointed by President Reagan in 1986. He is also a Professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, where he teaches courses in antitrust and jurisprudence, and a visiting professor at University College London, Faculty of Laws. Before joining the bench, he was a professor at Harvard Law School and then Assistant Attorney General of the United States for Antitrust. Judge Ginsburg is a graduate of Cornell University and of the University of Chicago Law School. He serves on the advisory boards of many journals and academic centers, including: the Supreme Court Economic Review; the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy; the University of Chicago Law Review; and, at University College London, both the Centre for Law, Economics and Society and the Jevons Institute for Competition Law and Economics.

He is the author or co-author of many books and articles, including Originalism and Economic Analysis: Two Case Studies of Consistency and Coherence in Supreme Court Decision Making and On Constitutionalism. Judge Ginsburg recently completed a three-part series on the Constitution – A More or Less Perfect Union  – being broadcast on PBS stations this spring.

Jasmine El-Gamal Credit: Duco Experts

Jasmine El-Gamal

Jasmine M. El-Gamal is a nonresident senior fellow with the Middle East program at the Atlantic Council, where she focuses primarily on US foreign policy in the Middle East as well as the Syria conflict and its implications for the region, Europe and the United States. Ms. El-Gamal served as a Middle East advisor to the United States Department of Defense from 2008-2015, where she handled the Iraq, Lebanon and Syria portfolios. During her tenure, she covered issues related to the Arab Spring, ISIS, and Guantanamo Bay, among others. She also served as the Acting Chief of Staff for the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy and as Special Assistant for National Security to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.

Abdi Nor Iftin Credit: Michael Lionstar

Abdi Nor Iftin

Abdi Nor Iftin is an author, radio journalist, refugee advocate, and interpreter. In his memoir, Call Me American, Iftin recounts his harrowing, extraordinary, and uplifting journey from Somalia, talking about immigration, being a refugee, and his new life in America.
Abdi was five when the civil war in Somalia began and attended a madrassa (school) while providing for his family. Amidst the daily shelling of the war and the famine, he had one escape: American movies and music. He learned about America, taught himself English (from watching those American movies), and began to dream of a life in the United States. Evading conscription by al-Shabaab while secretly filing stories for NPR under penalty of death, he stayed in Somalia until he had no choice but to flee to Kenya. While there, he says he had an incredible stroke of luck, and he won the Diversity Visa Lottery in 2014. His story was chronicled on “This American Life: Abdi and the Golden Ticket” .
Abdi travels and speaks throughout the US to champion the cause of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). When Abdi became an American citizen this year, US Senator Angus King attended his naturalization ceremony. Abdi says he’s liberated now that he is an American citizen. He has a voice in this country; he is finally able to vote for the first time. 

Josh Silver

Josh Silver

Josh Silver is the founder and director of RepresentUs, a post-partisan, nonprofit organization that is advancing campaign finance and election reforms across the nation. RepresentUs has built one of the largest grassroots and social media communities in the democracy reform field, with a focus on how to leverage systemic change through mass movements that traverse diverse political ideologies. Josh is co-founder and former CEO of Free Press, an advocacy group that promotes critical journalism and Internet openness. He served as campaign manager of the successful 1998 “Clean Elections” ballot measure in Arizona. Josh publishes widely on democracy, media, election, campaign finance and a range of other public policy issues.


Kay Coles James

Kay Coles James

Kay Coles James is no stranger to public policy and leadership. She has been making conservative solutions a reality in all levels of government and academia for over 30 years.
She has worked at the local, state, and federal levels of government in the administrations of former President George H.W. Bush, former Virginia Governor George Allen and former President George W. Bush, and she has also served dozens of organizations in the corporate, and non-profit arenas. She served on the 2016 Presidential Transition Team, and currently serves on the National Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission to which she was appointed by President Donald Trump.
In December 2017, she was unanimously elected by The Heritage Foundation’s Board of Trustees to be Heritage’s new president. She brings a wealth of experience to this position, having served on the Heritage Board from 2005 to 2018. Since becoming president of Heritage, Kay has led the way in growing the conservative movement, expanding Heritage’s scale and scope, as well as establishing processes and plans that will keep the organization thriving for generations to come.

Kay is also the founder and has served as the president of The Gloucester Institute, an organization dedicated to training and nurturing leaders in minority communities. Kay is a graduate of Hampton University, the recipient of numerous honorary degrees, and a best-selling author. Most importantly, Kay is married to Charles James Sr. and is the proud mother of three and grandmother of five.

Sam Sifton Credit: Brendan McCarthy

Sam Sifton

Sam Sifton is an assistant managing editor of The New York Times, overseeing the culture and lifestyle sections, the founding editor of NYT Cooking, and a columnist for The New York Times Magazine. He has also served as the national editor, the restaurant critic, and culture editor. Sifton is the author of See You on Sunday: A Cookbook for Family and Friends (Random House, 2020) and Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well: A Cookbook (Random House, 2012). Sifton graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College with an AB in history and literature in 1988. He began his journalism career as assistant editor for American Heritage magazine in 1988. From 1990 to 1994, he taught social studies in the New York City public school system. Sifton held a number of positions at the weekly New York Press during his tenure there from 1990 to 1998, including restaurant critic, contributing editor, senior editor, media critic and managing editor. Sifton was a founding editor of Talk (magazine) in 1998. 

Frances Fitzgerald, author of “The Evangelicals”, photographed at her home in New York City o... Credit: Peter Murphy for Christianity TodayFrances FitzGerald

Frances FitzGerald is a journalist and author. She has written six books and contributed to The New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New York Times magazine, Esquire, Architectural Digest and other publications. Her first book, Fire in the Lake: the Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam (Little, Brown and Company, 1972) received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Bancroft Prize for history. FitzGerald graduated magna cum laude from Radcliffe College in 1962 with a BA in Middle Eastern History. FitzGerald serves on the boards of directors of the Alicia Patterson Foundation, The Nation, and the Citizens Committee for New York City. She was president of the PEN American Center and The Society of American Historians, and served on the board of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harvard Board of Overseers. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. FitzGerald is married to the journalist and author, Jim Sterba, and lives in New York City.

Nick DowlingNick Dowling

Over the past two decades, Nick Dowling’s career has focused on stability operations and interagency coordination in both the public and private sectors. In his government service, Dowling worked to end the Balkan wars. He was Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council (NSC) where he coordinated Bosnia and Kosovo policy. Dowling has also worked as a defense fellow in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, as a senior fellow at the National Defense University and as a policy advisor for two presidential campaigns and a US Senate campaign. Over the past fifteen years, Dowling has been the CEO of IDS International, a firm that helps the US government deal with conflict and complexity in the 21st century. IDS trains and supports US military and diplomatic efforts around the world on issues ranging from cyber warfare to security assistance. 

Ted Widmer

Ted Widmer

Ted Widmer is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. Widmer served as a speechwriter and senior advisor to former President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001, and as a senior advisor to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from 2012 to 2013. He was formerly the director of The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress and the director of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University. 

His books include Martin Van Buren (2005); Campaigns: A Century of Presidential Races (with Alan Brinkley, 2001); and Young America: The Flowering of Democracy in New York City (1999). Widmer is a frequent contributor to The New York Times, The New York Observer, Politico, The Boston Globe, and The American Scholar.


WASHINGTON,DC- SEPT. 13, 2012: Francis Sellers-Moderator at Washington Post Live, Advancing Medic... Credit: Capital Business

Frances Stead Sellers

Frances Stead Sellers is a senior writer at the Washington Post. She covered the 2016 presidential campaign, writing about the leading candidates and key figures in the Trump administration and was a member of the team that produced the 2016 best seller Trump Revealed: The Definitive Biography of the 45th President.

Sellers has been a senior editor in charge of several sections of the Post, including the signature daily section Style, which focuses on political profiles, personalities, arts and ideas.
She is a sought-after commentator on American politics and culture for US and British radio and TV.


Roxana Robinson by Beowulf Sheehan Credit: Beowulf Sheehan

Roxana Robinson

Roxana Robinson is the author of ten books - six novels, three collections of short stories, and the biography of Georgia O’Keeffe. Four of these were chosen as New York Times Notable Books, two as New York Times Editors’ Choices.
Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Best American Short Stories, Tin House and elsewhere. Her work has been widely anthologized and broadcast on NPR. Her books have been published in England, France, Germany, Holland, and Spain. Robinson is a scholar of American paintings and an environmentalist, and her essays, criticism, and Op-Eds have appeared in The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post, Bookforum, The Nation, and elsewhere.

She is the recipient of many awards, the most recent the Barnes & Noble “Writers for Writers” Award, from Poets & Writers.

Alan Crain Credit: Houston Human Rights First

Alan Crain

Alan teaches at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University. He has lectured at Stanford Law School, Penn State, Duke, University of Texas, and Tufts University. He was an adjunct professor of international law for 10 years at the University of Houston. He is the chairman of the Houston Committee on Foreign Relations and a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. 

Alan serves on the boards of directors of a number of public and private companies, as well as several education and human rights focused non-profits. He is also an independent arbitrator, having served on more than 100 arbitration tribunals. 

Alan began his career with a law firm in Washington, DC and has been General Counsel of three Fortune 500 multinationals, operating in over 100 countries, in the fields of energy, technology, and manufacturing. He has had global responsibility for legal affairs, ethics and compliance, risk management and government relations. He holds BS and MS degrees in Engineering, a MBA, and a JD.  He has been admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Texas, and before several Federal Courts, including the US Supreme Court.


2019 Champlain Institute
Art: Dissent and Diplomacy 

Thank you to all of our guests and speakers who helped make the 2019 Champlain Institute a great success! To view archived talks, please visit our YouTube channel     

2019 Champlain Institute Speakers and Schedule     
2019 Selected Readings

2018 Champlain Institute
International Affairs

All 2018 Champlain Institute sessions were recorded and can be found in the Videos section of COA’s Facebook profile.

2018 Champlain Institute Speakers and Schedule
2018 Selected Readings