In the wake of last week’s election, several politics-focused courses at Penn are approaching the rest of the semester in slightly new ways.
While the end of the race is causing some of these courses to shift gears completely, others are experiencing more subtle changes in classroom discussions and coursework.
For members of “Campaigns, Debates and Conventions” — taught by Annenberg School for Communication professor David Eisenhower and Fels Institute of Government professor Marjorie Margolies — Nov. 6 marked the end of a major focus within the syllabus. Offered only in presidential election years, the course brings students to both parties’ conventions and zeroes in on the subsequent race.
Leading up to the election, the class typically met each week to discuss the structure of the conventions and ongoing campaigns, explained College junior Dylan Hewitt, who is taking the course. During debate weeks, they gathered at Fels to watch the debates together.
“We’d discuss what was good, what was bad, what should have happened,” he said.
And though meetings occasionally disbanded because of current events, the interruptions actually helped bring the syllabus to life. For example, although President Bill Clinton’s campaign stop on campus interfered with class time, Eisenhower and Margolies used the event as an opportunity to introduce students to Mayor Michael Nutter, former Gov. Ed Rendell and several state congressmen following the event, Margolies noted.
Now that the election is over, the students are turning their attention away from events like this and are focusing on their main assignment for the course: an independent research project on any element of the race, Margolies added.
While the close of the election marks a transition for these students, those in other courses are simply looking to the end of the race as an opportunity to enrich their syllabi.
For example, students in political science professor John DiIulio’s “Elections and Engagement” course are now using data from this election as the basis for a project examining proposals to elevate voter and volunteer activity.
Through DiIulio’s course, students partnered with Penn Leads the Vote on a number of service-learning projects. Though the class did not focus specifically on the 2012 race, it certainly extracted value from this fall’s political arc.
“The election outcome as in who won or lost is not germane to the course, but the rates at which citizens turned out to vote will be grist for our mill,” he said in an email.
College junior Joe Egozi also stressed that the election illuminated the course material.
“There are so many statistical methods you can use to find out who will vote and how to get them to vote,” he said. With the ongoing race, “you’re just seeing them at a very macro level — at the biggest scale ever.”
Similarly, “Who Gets Elected and Why” — a course focused on issues surrounding contemporary campaign management that is taught by Rendell and urban studies professor Peter Siskind — has seen a more lively classroom culture because of the election.
Each week, students have heard from guests like media consultants and pollsters — many of whom were involved with either the Obama or Romney camps.
Ultimately, though Siskind said the end of the race will not change the focus of the course, he emphasized that during a presidential election “the energy of the students tends to be higher. You can definitely feel it in the room.”
Approaching the election even more directly, English professor Dick Polman has been teaching “The 2012 Presidential Election,” which focuses on political commentary.
Each week, students blog about current affairs — a task that makes following the presidential election essential. During an unfolding race, “everybody can just plug right into the news as it changes,” Polman said.
In their pre-Nov. 6 posts, students focused their writing on the presidential debates. Now, though, they are turning to “what happens next,” Polman said.
Though the election may seem like the peak of this year’s political narrative, Polman stressed that equally dynamic stories are emerging now — such as the degree of President Obama’s current political strength and how the GOP will proceed.
“The story never dies,” he said. “The story just changes shape.”Comments powered by Disqus
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