For the first time since assuming office as Lawrence’s president in 2004, President Jill Beck is teaching a university course. The President’s Seminar, a three-credit course conducted in Mursell House, is part of her plan to achieve 100 percent voter participation at Lawrence in the upcoming Presidential election.President Beck announced the President’s Seminar course, which will also be offered spring term, during her fall convocation entitled “Educating Citizens, Supporting Students’ Political Engagement and Getting out the Vote.”
“I think that every college president has a responsibility to do what they can to get out the vote,” said President Beck, who hopes to bring campus “from apathy to engagement.” The class was also spurred by student suggestions stating the need for classes that look “outside the Lawrence bubble.”
“I think the class shows a change in the climate of topics discussed at Lawrence,” said senior Nathan Litt. As a government major, Litt was refreshed by the relevance of Beck’s course. This course, offered leading up to the election, represents a trend towards more relevant, “real world” classes finding a place in Lawrence’s curriculum.
Depending on how the course goes, President Beck may also be offering the course this fall. President Beck, who has been conducting tutorials throughout her years at Lawrence, also hopes to personally teach more classes in the future.
Litt also saw the course as the ultimate opportunity within the system of individualized education that Lawrence is known for. The class, which is also taught by President Beck’s husband, Dr. Rob Beck, and Director of Research Administration Bill Skinner, is largely discussion-based. Commenting on the class dynamic, junior Kyle Griffin said, “I don’t feel we’re treated as students, as the class is pretty experimental.”
The 12 members of the class, including two recent Lawrence alumni, initially expressed interest in the course or were first recommended by faculty members. Students’ motivations for taking the class include interest in the upcoming election and, of course, the novelty of taking a class with the president.
“I think the course could be more diverse,” said senior Peter Bennett of the class, which includes ten men, eight of whom are members of the Beta Theta Pi Fraternity. President Beck concedes that while the class is male-dominated, this is irrelevant. “Of course,” said Beck,” you can never have enough viewpoints.”
Prior to reconfiguring and expanding President Beck’s MyElectionDecision.org Web site, each student will be surveying 60-80 Lawrence students in the span of two weeks. Students will be asked to rate 16 issues in terms of importance to their decision-making in the upcoming presidential election.
In their recent research, the class identified which issues were specifically important to Lawrence students. “Smart, young people need to make room in their minds and their days for these issues,” said President Beck.
The top five or six issues will be added to the MyElectionDecison.org Web site in a similar fashion as the five issues already presented on the website.
Currently, students view eight presidential candidates’ statements on five current issues, including Iraq, energy, and health care. The website strives to present students with the most unbiased viewpoints in their barest form.
President Beck recognizes that while some personal characteristics are telling of someone’s future strength as a leader, “current tactics such as the ‘dress war’ are unsophisticated, strategic means of persuasion utilized by the media.”
President Beck wants students to get to the root of their feelings specific candidates and consider what personal characteristics are actually relevant to someone’s future capability as a leader.
In the next few weeks leading up to the February 19 primary, President Beck is hoping Lawrence will be able to host a presidential candidate.
The hope is, at the very least, to force people to think about these issues, some of which they maybe haven’t considered in the past. Litt affirmed, “Being engaged at any level is better than not being engaged at all.”
Bennett simply stated, “It’s idiotic not to vote.