Obama Presidency Course Features Prominent Speakers

Every Thursday night, hundreds of students assemble in Bishop Auditorium for Justice in the Obama Presidency, a one-unit class featuring speeches from well-known experts and politicians. Several of the guests have been quite prominent, including law professor Pam Karlan, Center for American Progress CEO John Podesta, and Law School Dean Larry Kramer. All of the material from the class and its blog is forbidden from publication, per the requests of several of the speakers.

Professors Rob Reich and Jim Steyer moderate the panel discussions. Justice in the Obama Presidency is an extension of a class that Reich and Steyer co-taught in the fall called Justice at Home and Abroad. The current two-hour course consists of questioning from Professors Steyer and Reich and from students.

Before class on Thursday, students post questions for the speakers on the class blog. Reich and Steyer then draw from this list of questions when choosing what to ask the speakers.  Approximately a half-hour is reserved at the end of each class for questions from the audience.

Despite the student-focused discussions, some students have perceived a bias in the course. Sekhar Paladugu thinks the class is “somewhat biased in a liberal direction, partly due to generally liberal/progressive speakers.”

Freshman Bugei Osi shared a similar view:  “I would appreciate a more balanced look at the issues that are both from the liberal and conservative point of view.”

When asked about these charges, Professor Steyer explained, “It’s somewhat dependent upon who comes to class… and to some extent it’s dependent on who’s available.”

Steyer mentioned Mike McConnell, Condoleezza Rice, Carly Fiorina, and George Schultz as people who he had invited but were unable to attend. “The class is sort of dependent upon people’s busy schedule,” he stated.

McConnell, a prominent conservative constitutional law scholar, had to turn Steyer down due to scheduling conflicts.  Rice, Fiorina, and Schultz would have also provided a more conservative viewpoint.

Steyer specifically pointed to Steve Schmidt, the political consultant who ran both Arnold Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial campaign and John McCain’s Presidential campaign, as someone with a conservative viewpoint. Steyer called Schmidt “the leading conservative political campaign person in the United States.”

As Professor Steyer points out, every speaker has his or her own opinions, and Steyer says he encourages them to express those opinions. “They’re allowed to say whatever they want to say,” he said.

But beyond the speakers themselves, some students take issue with Professor Steyer’s approach to conducting the class.  Junior Jason Lupatkin left the course after three weeks primarily due to “Professor Steyer’s inability to allow the guests to speak for themselves.”

“Professor Steyer has his own style,” stated George Malkin, another student in the class.  “Most students enter the class knowing that Professor Steyer will remain true to his beliefs, outspoken though they may be,” he said.

Malkin also stated, “If the class does have a liberal bias, the bias is not so overbearing as to eliminate grounds for rational, insightful, conservative thought and questioning.”

Steyer emphasizes the students’ abilities to include their views during the question period:  “I want the students to feel they can stand up and disagree completely with the speaker,” he stated.

Freshman Julia Ishiyama noted one of her favorite aspects of the class is that the speakers “don’t really tell us what to think of any of this stuff, but they give us plenty to think about.” She also mentioned, “The only thing that they’re really in consensus on and constantly telling us is that the whole point of the class is to encourage us to make a difference.”

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