SJR Column: Government and Politics, February 2017
From its very beginning in 1970, the University of Illinois at Springfield has embraced its location in the state capital of Illinois and the home of Abraham Lincoln – providing unique opportunities for students to examine, explore and experience politics and public affairs from a “front and center” vantage point. In fact, thousands of UIS alums have used their undergraduate or graduate experience as a springboard for a rewarding public service career in state or federal government or in related professional pursuits.
With a contentious presidential election and ongoing political strife in the Illinois statehouse, this particular academic year has offered unique educational opportunities – particularly for UIS faculty whose teaching and research is focused on these areas.
Professor of Political Science Chris Mooney, an expert on state politics currently serving as Director of the University of Illinois’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA), is one of those faculty.
“An election season like the one we’ve just experienced,” says Dr. Mooney, “demonstrates that politics is a living, breathing organism. It heightens students’ awareness of politics and government and serves as a very real reminder that politics has a real effect on people’s lives.”
“Being in the seat of government presents so many opportunities,” he adds, “including taking students to observe legislative sessions, committee hearings, supreme court proceedings and press conferences. Our classes often include legislative staffers and other students with state government backgrounds who make the classroom experience better for everyone and it’s exciting for students to have public affairs practitioners speaking regularly in their classes.”
Dr. Magic Wade, Assistant Professor of Political Science, is relatively new to the University and recently helped develop courses for the new undergraduate major in Public Policy.
“One of the things I appreciate about UIS,” she says, “is the ideological diversity of my students. Students in my classes represent a variety of points of view – both conservative and liberal, Democrats and Republicans.”
“The presidential election was painful and hurtful for a lot of people,” she continues. “I encourage my students to examine why people support what they do and be willing to engage with them.”
“What I try to model in our discussions is that Democrats and Republicans can sit in a room and have conversations that don’t evolve into name-calling. In the current climate at the Illinois capital, things are very divided. That’s not how things get done. Things get done by working across the aisle.”
Professor Ali Nizamuddin, also in Political Science, was born in India, but grew up in Downers Grove, Illinois. “The current political environment,” says Professor Nizamuddin, “has created an opportunity for us in the classroom to try and bridge the human gap.”
“Current events provide an ideal platform for students from various backgrounds and beliefs to speak from their perspective and to become more politically aware. By entering the realm of another, we can better understand how it feels to be part of a different ideology or perspective and respect the other person’s position without demeaning them.”
“When it comes to present-day politics,” adds Dr. Mooney, “I think the best education we can provide gives students a broader view than what they come in with. Being able to see different perspectives and learn from them is an important part of the liberal arts education UIS provides. It is a narrative of critical thinking.”
This UIS Perspectives column began with reference to Springfield’s own Abraham Lincoln. On Lincoln’s birthday, it seems appropriate to close it with a few of Lincoln’s words on the subject of politics. Though this message was delivered to Congress December 1, 1862 in the midst of the Civil War – it remains a timely message today:
“We can succeed only by concert. It is not, ‘Can any of us imagine better?’ but rather, ‘Can we all do better?’”
Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield