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Arlen Specter

Amidst discussions about famous court cases, money’s relation to political corruption and late-night television, students at Penn’s Law School are learning about the United States government from a pro.

Former U.S. Sen. and 1951 College graduate Arlen Specter is teaching a seminar this fall entitled, “Congress, the Constitution and the Supreme Court” at the Law School. His former General Counsel, Matthew Wiener, is co-teaching the class.

Specter and Wiener wanted to foster a classroom environment in which students felt comfortable questioning different political and legal topics. “I would like to know your ideological views,” Wiener joked to his class of about 20 students.

Specter admitted that one of the biggest challenges of teaching so far has been the fact that everyone has different opinions. However, “I respect their views,” he said, adding that he was curious to hear conflicting opinions. He often asks his students to support both sides of arguments he introduces.

For instance, even though the class agreed that money is a corrupting influence in politics, Specter asked students to try and defend money’s place in the government. Sometimes, discussions would border on debates, as it did when the class discussed whether or not the Constitution should reflect the changing nation.

Many students feel they are gaining valuable skills from the class. Second-year Law student Melanie Foreman said that she enjoys learning from an instructor who’s out in the field more than just reading court cases.

“You get another perspective,” she said.

College junior Josh Oppenheimer — who was sitting in on the class — agreed. “He’s able to give a bunch of anecdotes you wouldn’t get from a textbook,” he said.

“He’s a living legend … to learn from him is a great honor and opportunity,” Oppenheimer added.

Although Specter spent most of his later years in the political arena, he is no novice to academia. He taught a class at Penn from 1969 to 1971, while he was serving as district attorney of Philadelphia. He returned to Penn this year, after accepting an invitation to teach from Law School Dean Michael Fitts.

“I thought I could use [teaching] to get fresh views on legal decisions,” Specter said, adding that he enjoys talking to students.

“It’s refreshing to leave the Senate chamber.”

In addition to teaching, he still practices law and is writing a book.

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