UC Berkeley Professors Incorporate Upcoming Elections Into Classroom

This story was written by Deepti Arora, Daily Californian
This fall, University of California Berkeley students are hearing about the 2008 presidential elections not just in the news, but in their classrooms as well.

With November's elections covering many issues, focusing on everything from Wall Street's downturn to the war in Iraq, many professors are looking to incorporate as much of today's politics into their curricula as possible.

Political science and journalism professors say they commonly try to incorporate current events in their courses, but the elections have also reached departments like mass communications, business administration and ethnic studies.

"The whole thing that makes a class interesting and important is that it affects students' daily lives and the things they're going to vote for," said economics professor Christina Romer, who often assigns problem sets that draw on current and proposed economic policies.

Many professors said there is greater student interest in certain courses as well, almost undoubtedly due to today's active political environment.

Professor Dan Schnur, a leading Republican media strategist who was the chief adviser for Sen. John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign, said many more students petitioned to join his class on campaign strategy and the media this year than in previous years.

"I've never seen a presidential campaign with a higher level of student interest than the one this year," he said.

One of Schnur's students, senior Terance Orme, admitted that the presidential elections largely motivated him to take Schnur's class.

"This class is very far from theory-based-it's a refreshing real-world application of what I'm learning," he said of the course, in which Schnur allots an hour of each lecture to debating the candidates' political positions.

Part of what makes November's elections unique and more interesting compared to past campaigns is the candidates' unexpected nominations, said David Karol, an assistant political science professor who uses YouTube clips of the candidates while teaching a class on political parties.

"Both presidential candidates were underdogs to some respect within their own parties when seeking nomination," he said.

Schnur said that the increased student interest in this year's elections can be mainly attributed to an expansion in technology.

"Some of it is blogging, some of it is YouTube, some of it is Facebook, some of it is Twitter," he said. "There is just no shortage of ways for people who want to participate in politics to be able to."

Both presidential candidates are actively making use of these newer technologies to target a younger generation of voters. Presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama features a blog on his Web site, giving viewers the ability to share its posts on social networking sites. A Facebook page has been created for Sen. John McCain with videos and photos posted for the page's more than 330,000 supporters.

Although there are many benefits to a media age that encourages political awareness, Schnur said it can act as a double-edged sword at times.

"On one hand, these technologies are empowering and on the other hand they are isolating," he said, adding that the Internet can be used to propagate extreme opinions and make voters more polarized in their beliefs.

Romer said she chooses not to bring her personal political views into the curriculum.

"I try to teach what I think is mainstream economics," she said. "I think I may even go overboard sometimes in giving the other side because I have my own liberal Obama-heavy political views."

Regardless of the instructor's political preferenes, students said the application of classroom theory to today's politics almost always gives the course a greater sense of value.

"I think if you're going to take political science classes where you just learn terms, it makes things more easy to understand or fun to learn about when you see them actually going on," sophomore Jiesi Zhao said.
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