Listening to one of the nation’s leading political consultants talk to you and your classmates in person about one of history’s biggest elections is exciting for any student of political science. But it’s not completely out of the ordinary for the students in Political Science 203: Campaigns and Elections 2008, a course taught by President Mark D. Gearan and Professor of Political Science Iva Deutchman. In fact, when Gearan and Deutchman invited their class to dinner and a Q & A with leading Political Consultant Bob Shrum at Gearan’s home, it fit in perfectly with the course’s syllabus.
“The 2008 campaign offers us the chance to study modern campaigns in real time while reviewing the long term implications of voting trends and patterns,” said Deutchman. “Many people have already called it the most important campaign to take place in their lifetime. The Presidency is, of course, on the line. The first African-American nominated for the presidency by a major political party is an historic milestone as he challenges a highly decorated war veteran with extensive Senate experience.”
However, Gearan and Deutchman are going beyond the books with their study of elections, inviting Shrum and other experts into an on-going interaction with the class. “The course is designed to be a dialogue,” said Gearan. “A dialogue between us and our students, our students and the texts, the political experts and the students, and most critically: the course is a dialogue between the students and the election.”
Within the first month of class, students in Campaigns and Elections 2008 had heard different perspectives on the current candidates with call-ins from American Democratic political consultant Michael Whouley and former HWS Board of Trustees Chair Charles H. Salisbury Jr. ’63, P’94, L.H.D. ’08 following the Republican National Convention. “Whouley shared his insights and opinions as a top field operative and director of a political and corporate consulting firm,” said Gearan. “Charlie Salisbury explained his long support for Senator McCain and what it was like to attend the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.”
Congressman Dennis Eckerd phoned in to the class to discuss debate preparation, having served as the surrogate opponent for Al Gore during his vice-presidential debate preparation. In addition, Sen. George McGovern spoke with the class by phone about his experience as a presidential candidate and U.S. Senator. To discuss Southern politics the class heard from Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas Bill Halter.
Continuing this conversation with outside experts, Gearan and Deutchman have future interactions planned. “It’s crucial that we keep our students engaged in the election, learning actively about one of the most world-changing events in the history of the country,” said Deutchman.
“When we ask our students important political questions-such as ‘How do modern campaigns operate?’ ‘How important are conventions and debates?’ ‘How is advertising used?’-it’s essential that they’ve heard a range of perspectives from all sides of the election.”
“Professor Deutchman and I hope that by speaking with experts and those who have held high political office, our students gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the dynamic political process. It’s been an extraordinary election year” said Gearan.
Picture above are students and faculty at President Gearan’s house with Political Consultant Bob Shrum.